Pickled Beet Salad With Puy Lentils, Baby Spinach and Feta

Pickled Beet Salad With Puy Lentils, Baby Spinach and Feta

This is a beautiful salad inspired by Hetty McKinnon’s recipe for Pickled Beetroot With Puy Lentils, Baby Spinach and Cheddar in her wonderful cookbook Community.

You have a lot of colorful choices within the beet (Beta vulgaris) family, too. You can make this salad as colorful as you want.



Beets add an earthy dimension to salads and they are so good for you, rich as they are in antioxidants, folic acid, potassium and fiber. It turns out that they are rich in history, too.

Beets have been around since ancient times. They’ve been savored as a food, dispensed as a medicine, used in cosmetics and fabric dyeing and on and on. One cultivar in particular, the sugar beet, captured the attention of kings and emperors.



Here’s the history lesson: During the 1800s, Europe’s main sugar supplier was the West Indies where sugar was extracted from sugar cane using slave labor.  Sugar, however, became scarce in France during the Napoleonic Wars when the British blockaded direct trade. In response, Napoleon ordered research done on the viability of sugar beets as an alternative sugar source. (During the 18th Century, the Prussians had demonstrated that sugar could be extracted from sugar beets.)

By 1811, French  scientific experiments were showing success both in beet breeding and in sugar extraction from sugar beets. Napoleon subsequently ordered that 79,000 acres of French soil be put under cultivation. Hundreds of small sugar beet factories were quickly opened in France and in neighboring countries.

Then came Wellington and Napoleon’s fateful loss at Waterloo, after which he was packed away to a lonely exile in the mid- Atlantic along with his dreams of using sugar beets to provide Europeans with a sweetener. Sugar exports from the West Indies quickly resumed and, predictably, the bottom fell out of the French beet market.

The seeds for the industry had been planted, however. Once anti-slavery forces triumphed, the European sugar beet industry became more competitive and revived. Today, sugar beets account for about 30 per cent of the world’s sugar production.

Political cartooning was a big deal in Europe during the Napoleonic era and the cartoonists didn’t miss the sugar beet debate. Here a perplexed Napoleon is struggling to squeeze sugar out of a beet while the French housewife at the left is bitterly telling her child (who is sucking on a beet): “Sugar, my dear, sugar. Your father says that it is sugar!”

Gotta love history.



Here’s the recipe.


Pickled Beets With Lentils, Baby Spinach and Feta
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    For the salad
  • 11 oz. green lentils
  • 2-3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 shallots (thinly sliced)
  • 1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 2 t. cumin seeds
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 C. flat-leaf parsley leaves (chopped)
  • 1/2 C. dill fronds (chopped)
  • 1/2 C. cilantro (chopped)
  • 3/4 C. crumbled feta
  • 1 C. baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 C. chopped roasted walnuts
  • For the Pickled Beets
  • 6 beets (rinsed and peeled)
  • 2 C. white wine vinegar
  • 4 C. water
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 whole cloves
  • Optional Vinaigrette
  • 1/3 C. olive oil
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. maple syrup
  • 1 garlic clove (crushed)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. First, pickle the beets, or, if you want to simplify this recipe, use 1 15 oz. can of pickled beets. To pickle fresh beets, add all the pickling ingredients to a large pot. Bring the pickling liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for about one and a half hours until the beets are tender. Drain, cool and slice beets into 1-inch cubes. Set aside.
  2. Now, prepare the lentils. Put the lentils in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and then lower the heat and cook for 20 or 25 minutes until the lentils are tender. Drain. Set aside.
  3. Saute the shallots, garlic, sugar and cumin in a pan with olive oil. You want the shallots to become tender and to begin to brown. While the lentils are still warm, add this sauteed shallot mixture to the lentils and stir. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  4. Finely chop parsley, dill and cilantro. Set aside.
  5. Crumble the feta. Set aside.
  6. To serve the salad, spread the lentils on the bottom of an attractive platter. Arrange the pickled beet cubes on top of the lentils. Scatter the spinach leaves, chopped herbs, chopped walnuts, and feta on top. Just before serving drizzle with more good quality olive oil and season with salt and pepper or, alternatively, drizzle with a vinaigrette.
  7. This vinaigrette recipe would be a wonderful complement to this salad drizzled at the very end, but it is optional. If you decide to use the vinaigrette, simply put all the dressing ingredients into a small jar and shake vigorously.



5524 cal


260 g


691 g


232 g
Click Here For Full Nutrition, Exchanges, and My Plate Info



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