Give me vitamins or give me death: Arugula salad with beets and maple-sesame dressing

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s That Time Of Year. The time of year in which I can no longer bear to even consider the existence of kale and turnips and all the rest of winter’s bounty. The time of year which every additional snowflake feels like a personal affront from Mother Nature. The time of year when I would happily cut a bitch if it meant feeling sunshine on my skin.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s February. It’s the least wonderful time of the year.

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Happily, I did get to take a brief sojourn a few weeks ago to a land where the sun still occasionally shines–I headed down south to the Lone Star state for a little family time and sunshine. And, oh, what a lovely little driveby it was! Seeing the family is always so nice–and having run of that fabulous kitchen isn’t so bad, either. Especially when my father volunteers for sous-chef duties, thereby allowing me to boss him around with impunity. (Which, if you haven’t met my father…well, let’s just say it’s comical.)

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Of course, it wasn’t all labors in the kitchen–I also got a brief introduction to Dallas’ burgeoning food scene at the lovely new(ish) restaurant, the R&D Kitchen. R&D stands for Research and Development, an (admittedly) rather apt title in my mind, as it gave me the idea for this salad, also known as The Antidote To The Winter Blahs. It’s a riff on the salad part of their Seared Tuna Salad, a lovely melange of peppery arugula, earthy beets, tangy goat cheese and myriad other delights. I know, it sounds simple, but it was revelatory–though that might have as much to do with my desperate need for vitamins and fresh produce as anything.

I will admit to one or two small bits of winterizing: I made a warm dressing out of maple syrup, white balsamic, and sesame oil; I also toasted up some pumpkin seeds (pepitas) to sprinkle over. These autumnal accents ended up being an excellent foil to the springy flavors of the salad–enabling two seasons to collide in perfect harmony.

If only I could pull such a trick with the end of winter and cusp of spring; does anyone out there have any great dishes for in-between seasons they want to share?

Vitamin Salad!
(Serves 2)

Arugula
2 large beets (or 3 small-medium beets)
8 small new potatoes
2-4 oz chevre (depending on how much cheese you like)
pumpkin seeds (shelled)
1 blood orange (peeled, divested of its membranes, and roughly chopped)
5-6 oil cured olives (pitted and roughly chopped)

For the dressing:
1/4 c white balsamic vinegar
1/3 c maple syrup
1/4 c sesame oil
1/2 tsp dijon mustard

  1. Start by making the dressing: in a small saucepan, boil the vinegar until it’s reduced by 1/3-1/2. Add the syrup, sesame oil, and mustard. Whisk until combined; set aside and let cool.
  2. Then, deal with the beets! Preheat your oven to 375. Rub the beets with oil (Do not peel!) and wrap tightly in foil. Bake until tender to the tip of a pointy knife–about an hour. Set aside until cool enough to touch, and then peel using your hands. If you have rubber gloves handy, I recommend wearing those as you do this–otherwise, you do risk looking like a refugee from a violent crime scene. Once peeled, cut them into cubes about 1/2″ on a side.
  3. Boil your potatoes. I personally prefer to put them in the cold water and let them all boil together, but use whatever method you prefer.
  4. Toast the pumpkin seeds: do it without oil, in a small skillet, over high heat. Watch them like a hawk to make sure they don’t burn–a minute or so should do it. Remove them from heat the instant they start to brown.
  5. Assemble your salad! Crumble the chevre, toss in the olives, don’t forget the oranges, throw it all together with gusto! Serve with some nice bread if you’re so inclined. The big trick is to avoid putting the dressing in a glass and just drinking it straight–it’s that good, but better with the vegetables.
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