During a recent interview event, "Gefilte Manifesto" writers Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern prompted lots of audience head nodding when they referred to "growing into" foods such as chopped liver. Beets fall into that category of things a mature palate can appreciate, I think. Their earthiness, attributed in part to an organic compound called geosmin, generally is not something young folks enjoy.
I grew up with a borscht-loving father and learned to make the stuff for him yet still never cozied up to the vegetable served that way or "Harvard" style, from a jar - until I had them roasted, when I was in my late 20s.
And at this time of year, when the purplish-red, candy-striped and golden ones get bundled together at the grocery store, roasting them all together is a fine way to go. This salad shows off their color; the crunchy hazelnuts tossed in with them during the final minutes of oven time play off the beets' roasted texture, as does the pan-crisped paneer cheese. A dressing of yogurt, dill, horseradish and a touch of honey provides an unexpected tangy jolt.
Paneer and Roasted Beet Salad
You can peel the beets before you cut the vegetable into wedges - as instructed below - or you can scrub the exteriors well and, once roasted, slip off the skins after they've cooled for a bit.
Firm, fresh paneer cheese is available in large supermarkets, where you can also sometimes find black mustard seed, a staple at Indian markets.
Serve with warm focaccia.
Adapted from "The Indian Family Kitchen: Classic Dishes for a New Generation," by Anjali Pathak (Clarkson Potter, 2016).
1 1/4 pounds beets, preferably of different colors (see headnote)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seed (see headnote; may substitute brown mustard seed)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 3/4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) skinned hazelnuts
5 1/2 ounces paneer cheese (may substitute halloumi cheese; see headnote)
Several sprigs fresh dill
2 tablespoons plain Greek-style yogurt (regular or low-fat)
1 tablespoon prepared white horseradish
Pinch fine sea salt, or more as needed
Drizzle of honey
2 cups watercress
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Peel the beets, then cut them into wedges and place on the baking sheet. Drizzle them with half the oil and toss to coat, then sprinkle the mustard seed and ginger over them. Roast for 20 minutes, then add the hazelnuts to the baking sheet and roast for 5 more minutes, so the nuts become fragrant. Let cool on the baking sheet.
Meanwhile, line a plate with paper towels. Heat the remaining oil in a wide nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cut the paneer into large bite-size pieces. Once the oil shimmers, add the cheese and fry for a few minutes, moving the pieces in the pan so they become golden brown. Transfer to the plate to drain while you make the dressing.
Coarsely chop the dill and place a generous pinch of it in a medium bowl, then squeeze in the juice from the lemon half, being careful to avoid adding pits. Whisk in the yogurt, horseradish, salt and honey (to taste) in a medium bowl until emulsified. Taste, and add salt as needed.
Combine the watercress, the remaining dill, the roasted beets, toasted hazelnuts and seared paneer on a platter. Pour the dressing over the mix and toss to coat just before serving.
Nutrition | Per serving (using low-fat yogurt): 360 calories, 14 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 17 g sugar