This has inadvertently become Interesting Salad Week in my house. No, I'm not on an especial health kick. (I am always and never on a health kick.) No, we're not on a new food plan. Nope, we didn't magically start getting CSA deliveries in mid-February, because it is still very much winter in Chicago and its surrounding proverbial lands.
It's because I've been a little intentionally ambitious when buying vegetables lately. See, we gave up eating out for Lent, including takeout. So I've adopted a "more is more" philosophy when it comes to groceries in general, and produce in particular, figuring I'll be forced to use things up because I haven't yet resorted to stockpiling frozen pizzas. (YET.)
And now I've got what you might call an embarrassment of riches over in the veg department. Butter lettuce! Dino kale! Baby spinach! Broccoli! Cute radishes I keep forgetting about! Pretty local greenhouse tomatoes I keep putting on everything! And then, way at the back of the drawer, some radicchio and beets that I've had since... the first week of January? ARE THESE RESOLUTION BEETS? But they're in like, mint condition. Perfect. Dang these hardy winter vegetables.
The thing about beets is that I'm the only person in the house who likes them. Which could be a dealbreaker for, I don't know, a lesser Salad Kid. But you're talking to the OG Salad Kid here. I will HANDLE these beets.
Which brings me to the radicchio. I think I fell for this one (again) because the color is so beautiful and because I have this delusion that radicchio is like, versatile? Or lovable? But it's... not? Is it just me who thinks that? I don't think I've had radicchio in a salad since the first Obama administration, and even then it was that one piece you'd get in a bagged salad mix that always felt a bit like a mistake. A squeaky, chewy, bitter mistake.
Don't get me wrong: radicchio is great grilled or roasted. It certainly adds color to a salad. But I decided it was time to make radicchio the star of the show - in a raw application, no less - and figure out what it was she really wanted.
So this salad is about making something lovable and downright glamorous-looking out of some ingredients that, on their own, might seem a bit... uninviting to some. Reserved, even. We're not exactly working with spring mix here.
But what I discovered with radicchio is that its bitterness can not only withstand some rough handling, it flourishes under it. A confetti-like chop and a healthy hit of acid - administered early to give it a sort of quick marinade - soften both its texture and bitterness, giving you a brilliantly-hued base for something more akin to a slaw than a salad. Add earthy, soft roasted beets and a good, tart apple, and you're starting to build something that rings all of the flavor and texture bells. The rest is there to fill in the blanks: pecans for nuttiness and crunch, dates for a sudden sweet hit, and Stilton because it's piquant, a little sweet, a little acidic, and wins people over with its dignified, even restrained barnyard factor. (That is to say, if you find blue cheese too funky, try a sturdy English stilton like Colston-Basset and then call me.) Dress this beautiful mess with a honey-apple cider vinaigrette and you're in business. Sesame seeds on top of it all are pretty and add further textural interest, but they can be optional.
The purple and fuchsia jewel tones really do sort of cry out for a fall table, so I'll be making this one again on the other side of the year. But if you, too, find yourself with Resolution Vegetables here on the cusp of early spring, now you know what to do.
Radicchio, Beet, and Apple Salad with Dates, Pecans, and Stilton
For the dressing:
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
- 1 small head radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
- 3 small red beets, cooked, cooled, and peeled (I like to roast mine, but boiling is OK too!)
- 1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into thick matchsticks
- 2 ounces Stilton or other blue cheese, crumbled
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
- 3 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)
Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a bowl. Taste to check seasoning and adjust if needed. (You can make the dressing up to three days in advance.)
Place radicchio in a bowl and spoon over a few tablespoons of dressing. Mix gently to combine and let sit while you organize the other ingredients.
Cut the beets in half, then slice into half-moons about 1/4-inch thick. Arrange in the middle of a plate or platter. Pile the apples on one side of the platter, then the lightly marinated radicchio on the other side. Spoon more dressing over the beets, apples, and radicchio, then scatter the Stilton, pecans, and dates over the top. Sprinkle lightly with salt and cracked pepper to taste, then add the sesame seeds as a final flourish if you like.
All ingredients (except the apple) can be cut up and stored accordingly up to three days in advance, making this a winner for a dinner party or other gathering.
- baked goods
- beans + legumes
- dinner party
- gluten free
- make ahead
- pregnant food
- roasted stuff
- special occasions
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