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Beet Salad Review

The beet goes on

Simple salads let the red root vegetable shine

        Allowed to speak for itself, not pickled or obscured by heavy syrup, the shy red beet attains a minor majesty – a sleeping beauty whose inner, earthy sweetness can be awakened by a simple kiss.

        That may involve, depending on the cultural predilection, a squeeze of lemon or splash of balsamic vinegar, some sour cream or, in one Russia zakuska, freshly grated horseradish and dill.

        But in beet salads you will find, as well, surprisingly common threads. You may encounter sliced beets paired with hard-cooked egg in Scandinavia, Greece and, on occasion, Guatemala. Toasted goat cheese adorns many configurations, as do chopped walnuts and endive (for a hint of bitterness), apples or prunes (a hint of sweetness), and feta of Stilton (an edge of sharpness).

        Beet salads can become elaborate affairs. At Opus 251, the Lancaster County beets have been rubbed with olive oil, carefully infused with vanilla bean, and presented with airy Roquefort cheese “foam” and almond-stuffed medjool dates wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon.

        But less, on the other hand, can be more. Dmitri’s at Third and Catharine has served a minimalist version for years – boiled beets, red onion, parsley, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Standard Tap’s perfect-pitch version varies only slightly: Chef Carolynn Angle adds sherry vinegar to the wine vinegar along with a pinch of sugar, packs the beets in a ring mold, and tops the salad with lemon zest and microgreens.

        One homey favorite that I keep coming back to, though, is the take-out salad dished out at Andro’s Fine Prepared Foods in the Reading Terminal Market.

        The recipe is owner Andreas Petrides’ take on the traditional Mediterranean beet salad his grandmother Theodora made in his native Cyprus.

        She’d parboil the beets, roast them in an earthenware platter set in hot embers, and then toss them by hand with lemons, local feta, walnuts, caramelized quince and pomegranate molasses.

        Petrides’ scarlet homage is Americanized. He substitutes apples for the quince, balsamic vinegar for the lemon, and Stilton for the feta. The molasses isn’t pomegranate anymore; it’s your everyday, supermarket stuff.

        I make it regularly at home now, letting the flavors marry for hours or overnight before serving it.

        A couple of tips: Add the Stilton at the very end, folding it in gently and leaving it in nuggets rather than squishing it into a distracting dressing.

        Also, toast the walnuts. (Shake them in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes until they give off that nutty aroma.)

        Petrides still parboils his beets. But I skip that in favor of roasting them from the start. It intensifies their sugars, unlocking their inner beet – a root that is, at heart, a fruit.

Rick Nichols, Philadelphia Inquirer