Summer Beet Salad with Corn, Cucumber and Basil
Beets seem to strike two types of reactions in people; they either love them, waxing poetic, or dislike them with a passion usually reserved for people who steal your parking space at the mall. I am firmly in the “love” camp, though I came late to the party in my affection for beets. People who say they don’t like beets, when pressed, usually admit to a long-rooted childhood aversion to canned, over-cooked, or pickled beets and often haven’t tried them again as adults.
My theory is that like many other foods, beets, if properly prepared, are almost impossible to dislike. If your only experience with fish as a child was eating school cafeteria fish sticks, then I’m not surprised if you say you don’t like fish. But let me give you a spectacular piece of grilled wild salmon and I promise to convert you. The same holds true for beets. If as a child you were forced to eat canned beets dumped on a salad and you think it has scarred you forever, then allow me to show you what sweetness comes from roasting fresh beets in the oven.
Beets come in many colors and stripes, literally. There are red beets, of course, and golden beets, purple beets, white beets, and even “candy cane” striped beets. Color has little impact on flavor; most colors of beets taste similar, with a sweet and somewhat earthy flavor. In the British colonies, beets are called “beetroot” and when I traveled to Australia and New Zealand I discovered that a slice of cooked beetroot is a common garnish on hamburgers, like the pickle is in the US.
Beets are a root vegetable with the bulb growing underground and edible green leaves above. If you buy fresh beets from the farmer’s market with the greens attached, look for the greens to be crisp and fresh and the bulb to be firm, with smooth, uncut skin. Cut the greens off about an inch from the beet as soon as you get home; if left attached, the greens will draw moisture from the beet. Wash the beet tops, and sauté them as you would fresh spinach or Swiss chard (which is related to beets). Beet greens aren’t as bitter as some other greens like escarole and they add nice color and texture if mixed in with other greens. If you grow beets in a home garden, you can trim off the larger outer leaves for eating while the beet continues to grow underground.
The deep garnet color of the common beet has long been used as a vegetable dye. For this reason, when cooking red beets it’s a very good idea to not only wear an apron to protect your clothes, but latex gloves will keep your hands from becoming stained. The dark pigments which give beets their color are thought to be a powerful antioxidant and they’re high in vitamins A and C, folate and fiber. Beets are also a major source of sugar in the US. Check the bag of white sugar in your pantry. If it does not say “cane sugar” then it’s likely derived from beets.
Beets can be cooked in many ways; boiled, steamed, eaten raw, pickled, even sliced and fried into chips, but roasting whole is one of the best ways to prepare them because it concentrates the beet’s natural sugar instead of allowing it to escape as other cooking methods can. If you think you’re not a fan of beets, give the roasting method a chance. I’m confident it will change your mind. Right now, corn, cucumbers, and basil are growing in many summer gardens so grab some beets and try this fresh salad.
Which camp are you in with beets? Wax poetic or passionate dislike?
Cooking and Preparation Tips:
- Cook beets whole and unpeeled to keep their color.
- Cook different colors separately to maintain their color.
- Cook until just tender to maintain flavor and nutrients
- Wear gloves and an apron when cleaning and cutting cooked beets.
- Add cooked and cut beets to salads and other dishes just before serving so their colors do not bleed into the other ingredients.
Summer Beet Salad with Corn, Cucumber and Basil
- 2 each small beets roasted*
- 1 each ear fresh corn cooked
- 4 oz cucumber diced small
- 1 Tbsp champagne vinegar
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp fresh basil leaves cut chiffonade
- kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roast the beets, wrapped in foil, until done. Let cool. For further instruction on how to roast beets go here. When the beets are cool enough to handle, trim off the ends and peel.
- Slice the beets very thin with a sharp knife or on a mandoline slicer (this is the kind I use, available on amazon (affiliate link) but you can find them in Japanese markets and cooking supply stores)
- Blanch the corn, cool, and slice the kernels off the cob.
- Cut the cucumber into a small dice, about the same size as the corn kernels.
- In a small bowl whisk together the champagne (or white wine) vinegar with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix in the corn and cucumber.
- Lay the sliced beets on the plate and top with the corn and cucumber mixture or layer them as shown in the photos. Garnish with basil chiffonade (cut into fine strips).
Curious as to why you call for Kosher Salt. As I understand it the unique thing about Kosher Salt is its ability to draw moisture from a food because of it shape as a flake. That does not seem to be important here so why not any readily available unflavored salt.
I always use kosher salt in cooking, which comes from many years in a professional kitchen. It’s easier to pick up and sprinkle. With iodized table salt, it’s much easier to over-salt the food. Plus, I think it tastes better.
Thanks for the reply. True about the ease of finger sprinkling but not sold on the taste aspect. However I totally agree that if you are using a salt with a pleasant taste then it should be used on a salad or something fresh. Going to try this recipe tonight, wish me luck.
I love beets. Actually, I have fond childhood memories of canned beets in salads! As an adult, I’m a big fan of roasting them. This salad is beautiful – love the presentation.
Yum! Like you, I’m totally in the “love camp”, but came very late to the party. This salad looks beautiful and I can’t wait to try it! Thank you!
Love them! This salad looks marvelous. I have enjoyed all of your beet recipes. Going to try this one as well.
The corn -cucumber – basil mix came out excellent but the beets did not bake long enough. I had them at 300 degrees for a little over an hour and they were still tough. Going to look for a microwave technique now ……
Cal-beets can be tricky because the come in all different sizes. You can always test then with a sharp knife to check for doneness. If they were large they probably just needed more time.
Also 300 may have been too low for the amount of time you allowed. I usually do them at 350.
I am a beet lover to the very end. Lenny wasn’t until I started roasting them. Now we eat them very often tossed with salads such as this and on their own. I love the addition of corn to this recipe. Have not mixed the two together … until now.
Denise, in the summer I put fresh corn in just about everything, LOL!
I was wondering if you have made this in a larger setting. I have beets from a CSA and wanted to try this recipe out for our neighborhood get together… but the beautiful way you placed your veggies isn’t practical. Would it look bad to just toss everything in a bowl with the slices cut in half? Advice? Thanks!
I think it would taste good, but everything would turn pink. If you don’t care about the color, then go for it! 🙂
Mary @ Fit and Fed
I love beets and I think I cook them well, usually roasting them whole in foil just as you recommend. It can really vary how long it takes to roast them depending on how big the beets are, sometimes it can take as long as 90 minutes. My husband loves beets, too, unfortunately only one of our three sons likes them, and it’s not the son who is still living at home full-time. So beets, along with mushrooms and eggplant, are something that we will have more often when it’s just me and my husband at the table. I like the way you made the beets and corn into a pretty stack in your last photo.