Last Saturday, while on a date, Robert and I got to talking about totally normal things. Like: If you could create your perfect salad what would it contain? Yeah. Totally normal. (As you can imagine, food comes up a lot in our conversations. I once tried to bribe him with baked sweet potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts. Not my finest moment.)
I can’t remember what would be in my ideal salad (I think it would depend on the time of year), but his had spinach, red onion, jalapeno, some kind of bean, and roasted beets. Roasted beets! I love roasted beets! And yet I’ve never made a salad with them before. I’ve put just about every other ingredient you can imagine in a salad (apples, pistachios, grapes, salmon, potatoes, quinoa….) but never roasted beets. This had to change. Immediately. So we ran out of the Italian restaurant…
But this week I made sure to put an end to my beet-less salads and it was just as incredible as I had hoped. To be honest, I feel like I’m cheating, posting a salad recipe here because I never really considered salad making to be cooking. In fact, before the cooking bug bit me about a year and a half ago, I practically lived off of salads with endless permutations of ingredients. Since I’ve been cooking, however, I’ve made a fraction of the number of salads I used to and tend to avoid them entirely during the fall and winter in lieu of heartier foods. But this salad totally bridges the gap. There’s a fair amount of cooking involved (baking the chicken breast, roasting the beets, and toasting the walnuts) while balancing cool, raw foods (the spinach and shallot…although maybe next time I’ll caramelize the shallot…) with warmer ones.
If you’ve been eating salads sans beets for way too long like I have, stop the madness right now with what has become my idea of a perfect fall salad.
Spinach, Roasted Beets, Toasted Walnuts, Chicken and Shallot with Balsamic Vinaigrette
(I didn’t really measure anything, so just go with how much you think you need for the number of people you’re serving.)
For the salad:
½ bag baby spinach
½ shallot, diced
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
Heaping handful of raw, unsalted walnuts
For the dressing:
About 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp agave (or other sweetener such as honey or maple syrup)
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Marinate the chicken in your favorite marinade (I like to use bottled dressing; my favorite is Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette) for 10-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare the beet: Peel off the skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut in half and cut each half into bite-sized pieces. Place in the center of a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Fold the foil into a little packet with the beet in the center. Place it on a baking sheet.
For the chicken: Take the chicken out of the marinade and place it on a piece of foil on the other half of the baking sheet.
Cook the chicken and beet for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven. Set chicken aside and allow it to cool slightly. Test the beet—it’s done if you can easily pierce it with a fork. Otherwise, return to oven and cook for 10 more minutes.
Toast the walnuts: Heat a dry pan on medium-heat. Add walnuts, tossing occasionally, until fragrant (3-5 minutes). Be sure not to burn them. Remove from heat, place on cutting board, and roughly chop.
Assemble the salad: Place spinach in a bowl and top with diced shallot. Add walnuts. Add beets. Thinly slice chicken and place on top.
For the dressing: Place all of the ingredients in a small container with a lid and shake until combined. Pour the amount that you want (you’ll probably have extra) over the salad and use tongs to coat evenly.