with Beets, Blue Cheese, & Maple Candied Pecans
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I don’t make enough great salads. And you know what? I’m going to bet there’s a good chance that you don’t either. I’ve published a number of salad-ish recipes in the past (see below for more of them), but only one typically leafy/green salad. Oh sure, I eat salad often enough (by which I mean that I eat salad whenever I need to keep leftover lettuce from going bad), but I need to craft more GREAT green salads. As I mentioned in my recipe for miner’s lettuce and mizuna salad, greens make a big difference. There’s nothing wrong with lettuce (I used it here in fact), but a blend of mild and bold greens help to really make a salad interesting. Good dressing matters too, and it’s one of the best things you can make from scratch, given the cost and nutritional profile of the average bottle of store-bought dressing. But I’ve covered a lot of this before and I don’t want to flog a dead horseradish – after all, greens and dressings aren’t the end of the salad story. Let’s talk about all the ‘stuff’ that makes a salad awesome.
Beets are sweet and earthy. Blue cheese is savoury, salty and pungent. Candied pecans provide crunchy, savoury, sweetness. Add that to the greens (mild and bitter) and dressing (sour) you’ve got a complete gustatory experience. Sweet, salt, bitter, sour, and umami, and great textures to boot. Death to boring salads. I’m quite fond of this recipe, but it’s only one of a near-endless combination of ingredient that you could use to create your own personalized Awesome Salad™. The key is to focus on those five basic flavour profiles, as well as texture. If we assume that you’ve brought some sweetness, bitterness, and sourness in with your greens and dressings, we’re left with trying to balance everything out with the add-ins. Looking for more sweetness? Try fruits like peach or strawberry. Want some texture with that sweetness? Dried fruit! Need some sourness and/or bitterness? Citrus is your friend, my friend. Need an umami-bomb? Cheese, tomato, nuts, nutritional yeast, and even soy sauce in your dressing can all deliver big. Salt is a bit of a trickier ingredient given that we don’t exactly tend to salt our salads, but you can bring in a bit of salt in your dressing, or on nuts, seeds, croutons, or cheese. And hey, don’t let convention stand in your way either – we don’t salt salads because big leafy greens won’t exactly hold salt nicely, but if you’re making a chopped salad or something else with small bits and pieces, hit that bad boy with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Yes, salad can be a bad boy. I’m channeling my inner ‘sassy-aunt-on-Facebook’ here.
As a person who creates recipes, I realize this might sound a little counter-intuitive, but don’t get too tied down by recipes. I’d be delighted to know if you make this salad – after all, I think I loved it enough to share it with y’all. But I’d also be delighted to know if it spurred you to create a recipe all your own too. Salads are a great low-risk kind of dish to experiment with, and a wonderful way to grow more confident about culinary experimentation and recipe development. Have fun, and long live the loaded salad.
There’s really nothing too complicated about this recipe, but as I mentioned above the key to getting it right (and any good loaded salad for that matter) is to focus on hitting a lot of complimentary but contrasting flavours. If you’re reading this far, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you like the idea of blue cheese and beets, but these ingredient can be a little polarizing and that’s ok. There are twists, variations, and tweaks you can make to modify this salad or to take it in an entirely different direction.
Eat your weeds! Yes, dandelion greens are edible. Honestly, given their unstoppable weedy nature, it’s amazing that we don’t eat them more often. Large, tender, cultivated varieties can sometimes be found at specialty grocers and farmers’ markets, but you can also pick your own. Look for clean, bright green, very young leaves early in the season (spring is ideal, but shaded or cool-weather plants will sprout young leaves all season), and only pick from areas that you’re confident have been free from pesticide or heavy fertilizer use. As with any foraging, make sure you’re 100% certain about the ID of any plant you’re planning to eat. There are some dandelion lookalikes out there, many of which have hairy stems and leaves. Don’t eat these. If you’re feeling especially hardcore about cultivating your weeds, you can actually ‘blanch’ young dandelions by covering them with an opaque pot (or something similar) when they start to sprout. The lack of sunlight will keep the young leaves tender and much less bitter.
If you’re looking for a simple store-bought alternative, swap out the dandelions for rocket/arugula, or radicchio (which would look especially lovely against the red beets). Watercress would make a nice variation too, though its flavour leans more into the peppery side, with some bitter elements.
Beets & Substitutions
I love beets. Love the colour, love the flavour, love what they can do in chocolate cake (yes, really). But they can be a little overwhelming too, which is why this recipe specifically calls for red AND golden beets. Golden beets tend to have a milder, less-pronounced flavour than their hand-staining red counterparts. If you’re a little on the fence about beets in general, you could used just golden beets. If you’re looking to swap beets out of the recipe altogether, I highly recommend exploring the deliciousness of roasted radishes. They’re awesome, and you could roast them with a little bit of honey if you wanted to compensate for the lack of beet-sweetness too.
If you’re in a hurry and you need a good salad but you don’t have time to roast veggies, try swapping out the roots for chunks of apple. You can toss the chopped apple with a bit of the dressing or a little lemon juice to keep them from browning.
Blue Cheese & Substitutions
Once again, if you’ve made it this far it’s probably safe to assume that you like blue (or bleu) cheese – but perhaps you’re one of those poor souls who’s married to a blue-basher. A finicky-fromage-frowner. Well worry not, you’ve got options for those who want prefer their moldy cheeses to be gor-gone-zola.
First of all, let’s talk about what kind of blue cheese to use, as they’re not all created equal. I personally like to use a relatively mild, crumbly cheese sparingly so as not to overwhelm the other flavours. Gorgonzola is a good choice. My fellow Canadians might want to seek out Bleu Claire from Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, Jersey Blue from Golden Ears Cheesecrafters, Bleu D’Élizabeth from Fromagerie du Presbytère, or Ciel De Charlevoix from Famille Migneron for a bit of local flavour that delights the palate without being overwhelming. If you don’t mind going a little bolder, try Stilton (but I’d personally avoid the rind, which has a different and polarizing flavour). If you’re an unabashed blue-booster, you could go bold and use a cheese like Roquefort, but I personally think you risk overpowering the rest of the salad.
If you’re looking to swap out the blue cheese but still want to use a cheese, the key is not to go too mild. A sharp crumbly cheddar would be my first choice (especially alongside a little bit of added apple to compliment the flavour), but an aged gouda would work too. You could also used shavings of very firm, umami-rich and hard Asiago, Pecorino, or Parmesan-style cheeses. Soft goat cheeses are very popular with beets and a personal favourite of mine, but I don’t think that they bring enough ‘oomph’ to really pop against the other flavours in the recipe, especially when used in such small quantities.
If you want to avoid dairy altogether there are a few possibilities. Non-dairy cheeses built around soy, cashews, and other ingredients are currently going through a craft revolution, and there are some great ones out there in both blue and hard cheese (e.g. Parmesan) styles. If you’re looking for blue cheese flavour minus the dairy, there are some pretty incredible small-scale artisanal plant-based ‘cheese’ makers out there turning out stunning blues. That being said, there are also plenty of unremarkable and downright awful non-dairy cheeses, so I’d suggest that you do your homework and try a few things before committing to using anything here. If you’re not looking to hunt down a plant-based cheese, nutritional yeast flakes are a great option for replicating the salty/umami punch of Parmesan. Nutritional yeast does represent something of a size/texture problem though, as it doesn’t crumble into chunks and may end up at the bottom of your salad bowl. You can try dressing the salad first and adding the flakes so that they stick, or adding the nutritional yeast directly to your dressing. For a more visual/textural option, try mixing nutritional yeast with just enough olive oil to make it clump together in crumbly little balls. Disperse a few of these yeasty-bits around your salad, et voilà.
Note: Nutritional Information is given for a single serving including dressing (1/4 portion of the total recipe).
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
A simple but memorable and flavourful salad loaded with big, bold flavours and fantastic textures.
- 75 g dandelion greens (~2.6 oz)
- 100 g butterleaf lettuce (~3.5 oz)
- 30 g blue cheese (~1 oz)
- 1/2 cup whole pecans (~70 g/2.5 oz)
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 small beets
- 2 small golden beets
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- pinch salt
Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Clean the beets and wrap them with foil, then roast for one hour or until tender. Remove from heat and allow them to cool to the point that they can be handled, then peel and slice them.
- Heat maple syrup in a small pot until bubbling. Add pecans and toss to cover, then heat for about 1 minute, or until the glossy and sticky with little liquid remaining. Spread on wire rack or on a sheet of parchment paper too cool.
- Clean the dandelion greens and remove any particularly tough or woody stems. Cut or tear the dandelion and lettuce into bite-sized pieces.
Whisk the vinegar, olive oil, and salt together until they form a smooth emulsion. Set aside.
- Combine the salad greens, sliced beets, blue cheese, and pecans. Drizzle the vinaigrette over top and serve.