John Keats wrote that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
So it is with this beautiful salad. The colors are intense. The flavors and textures are delightful. There is joy on your plate.
But why do certain foods, like this beautiful salad, tempt our taste buds while others fall flat? According to an article in Popular Science, how we taste foods is affected by a complex set of factors including temperature, language, the utensils we use, color, environment and expectations.
For example, warm beer tastes more bitter than cold beer. Cold foods taste saltier. Likewise, the environment in which we dine affects our taste. In an interesting study, a group of Scotch whiskey drinkers were rotated through three themed tasting rooms. One room was decidedly “grassy.” As the crowd tippled, grass smells wafted in the air and the sounds of bleating sheep provided background Muzak. Others of the rooms were themed “sweet” and “woody.” Researchers found that the drinkers’ descriptions of the taste of the Scotch reflected the environmental clues. (Where do you sign up for Scotch tastings, by the way? If it will advance science, I’m willing to do my part.)
In another study, this one published in Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a group of diners were gathered for a steak and fries dinner in a room that was specially lighted to showcase the food. A fine time was had by all until the special lighting was turned off and the diners discovered that the steaks were dyed blue and the fries were green. Yuck! Diners hurriedly pushed their plates away and several diners became physically ill.
I believe that color dramatically affects our sense of taste. I’ve long noticed the unappetizing quality of magazine food photographs where the color register is off or the color combinations are poor. Despite a strong affinity for the color blue, food magazine covers with lots of blues send me running. On the other hand, covers dominated by reds and bright greens catch my eye and stimulate my appetite. Show me a photo of a bowl of juicy strawberries and I’m a happy camper.
This beautiful Smashed and Seared Beets recipe certainly hits all the right color notes with brilliantly-colored red and orange beets sitting atop a smooth white goat cheese crema and sauced with a bright green Chimichurri sauce.
There are rainbows of colorful beets now available in markets. Put some color on your table tonight with this great recipe. But, whatever you do, don’t let anyone slip you one of those nasty blue steaks.
Yields 4 Servings
- Beet Salad Ingredients
- 1/2 C. (4 ounces) goat cheese (at room temperature)
- 3/4 C. heavy cream
- Fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 pounds small to medium beets
- 1 1/4 C. apple cider vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves (halved)
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Baby arugula or baby spinach
- Chimichurri Ingredients
- 1/4 C. red wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove (peeled)
- 1/4 t. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 C. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 C. fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1/2 C. fresh cilantro leaves (stems removed)
- 1/4 C. fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 t. ground cumin
- To make the beet salad, put goat cheese, cream and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl and whisk. Cover and refrigerate.
- Put beets, 5 cups of water, cider vinegar, garlic, bay leaf, and 1 t. salt in a large saucepan and simmer over high heat. Once the water begins to vigorously simmer, partially cover the pot with a lid and continue to simmer until the beets are tender. This will take between 35 and 50 minutes depending upon the size of the beets. Remove the beets from the cooking water and let them cool.
- Trim the cooled beets (but do not peel off the skin) and then smash them. I put the beets on my cutting board and used a large plate to smash them. You want them to be flattened but not smashed to the point of coming apart. Then, heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the beets and cook them undisturbed until the beet skins are crispy and caramelized. This will take about 3-4 minutes per side. (Turn the beets over once during cooking.) Season with salt and pepper.
- To make the chimichurri sauce, combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree. Chill the sauce.
- To assemble the dish, spread a thick layer of the goat cheese crema over the bottom of a large serving platter. Arrange the smashed beets over the top of the crema. Drizzle chimichurri over the dish and garnish with arugula or spinach. Serve with extra chimichurri sauce on the side.
This recipe was adapted from one in Cara Mangini’s cookbook The Vegetable Butcher, available for purchase on Amazon. (Amazon: The Vegetable Butcher)