Summer is literally the salad days: We eat so many of them this time of year. The hotter it gets, the more beautiful the produce, the more appealing a bowl of cool, light lettuce and gorgeously fresh vegetables sounds. It’s light, it’s refreshing, it’s ready in a snap, and it’s really hard to get bored because the list of possible ingredient combinations goes on and on.
But sometimes, even in the summer, you want something a little more substantial. We have a few favorite salads like this that we make every summer—our Panzanella for one, and this Layered Beet and Goat Cheese Salad for another. It’s filling but not heavy and has the perfect balance of sweetness from the beets, tangy creaminess from the goat cheese, nuttiness from the walnuts, and bright crispness from the watercress.
Beets have been getting a much better rap these days—they’re all over menus and tables nearly everywhere you go in summer months—but if you have yet to be convinced, here’s the way to do it. These spectacular little gems (their rich color amazes us every time—it never gets old) are livened up when mixed with goat cheese and watercress. If you’re thinking that watercress is that green stuff best picked off tiny sandwiches, we’re here to change your mind. It has a great bite to it, both in flavor and texture. It’s a little peppery and a lot refreshing and is totally unlike any other green. For some added crunch and nutiness, we added walnuts, which complement all of the flavors so nicely. Top it off with a balsamic reduction or your favorite vinaigrette and you’re done: one of the most beautiful salads you ever did see.
Another great thing about this salad is that you can make it early in the day or even the day before you serve it. You should know by now that this is our kind of dish: easy and delicious. What a thing to just pop open the fridge and pull out something that looks like this, all ready to go.
This salad gets along great with so many foods as a side dish—fish, grilled steak, roasted chicken—but it’s also perfect as a stand-alone light lunch. All you have to do then is open a bottle of wine—a glass or two is definitely in order!
The number of beets in a bunch can vary. Our bunch came with 2 large beets and one medium. If you like cheeses with stronger flavor, something like a Port Salut would be fantastic.
We used watercress, but you can easily substitute another green, like arugula. As with any recipe: make it your own.
Purple is a beautiful color, but there’s no getting around the fact that beets will stain anything and everything. Wear rubber gloves when you handle them if you don’t want Beet Hands. We also covered our cutting board with a thick layer of unbleached paper towels to prevent it from turning purple.
For pressing the salad, you’ll need to add some weight. We put a second loaf pan on top and added a 5-pound bag of flour.
To serve, pull back the plastic wrap, hold a serving dish up against the open end of the pan, and invert onto your dish. Remove the plastic. If the layers slip a little, nudge them back with a knife and fork. Slice with a serrated knife, place a spatula underneath, and lift it onto your plate.
We used a balsamic reduction in our dressing, but feel free to use whatever you prefer.
A 9 x 5″ loaf pan
– A bunch of beets
– 1 bunch of watercress
– ¾ cup of walnuts
– ½ pound goat cheese, thinly sliced
– Balsamic reduction or your favorite vinaigrette
* Give the beets a good scrub and cut off greens. Wrap individually in foil (no need to dry them). If your beets are small, you can wrap a couple together.
* Place beet packages on a roasting pan in your oven and roast for about an hour. Time will depend on size. Large beets will, of course, take longer to cook than smaller ones. You’ll know they’re done when they can easily be pierced with a knife, fork, or skewer.
* Remove from the oven and open packages, being extra careful to avoid the steam that will pour out. Allow beets to cool some, then peel and thinly slice.
* Wash and dry the watercress.
* Thinly slice the goat cheese.
* Make a layer of beets at the bottom of the loaf pan on top of the plastic wrap, followed by a layer each of cheese, walnuts, and watercress. If you need to, cut the beet and cheese slices to fit. Repeat until you run out of ingredients and be sure to end with a layer of beets on top.
* Cover with plastic wrap and place a weight on the top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but overnight is better.
* When ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap from the top and invert onto a serving dish. Slice into portions.
©2014 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.