Anyone who has ever dipped into a bowl of candied or spiced nuts knows that they are highly addictive. There you are at the restaurant, sitting at the bar and waiting for your table to be ready, absentmindedly picking at the bowl of sweet and spicy cashews. Your hand goes for a refill, and you hit an empty bowl. Something about the combination of flavors, which fire a direct hit to every area of your palate, makes it impossible to eat just a few. Suddenly, you're not so hungry for dinner anymore (buy hey--are there any more of those nuts stashed behind the bar???).
One way to avoid this problem, other than not making the delectable snacks, which we all know is out of the question, is to make the nuts a part of your meal, such as a topping for a salad. It's funny how, to many people, putting something on a salad automatically makes it healthy, just because it's called a salad. I've got news for you people: A deep fried taco shell, filled with ground beef, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole is not the same as mixed greens with balsamic on the side. But, if you sprinkle a reasonable amount of nuts, or cheese, or even bacon on top of the salad, you still get the benefit of flavor without the extra calories.
This simple salad incorporates one of my favorite vegetables, sweet roasted beets. Combined with the slightly spicy and salty almonds, a citrus dressing, peppery arugula, and tangy pecorino, it really puts your taste buds to work! Here are a few tips for preparing the salad:
- If you cannot find golden beets, then red beets may be substituted. I tend to prefer the golden beets because they don't stain everything that they come into contact with! Striped "candy cane" beets and baby beets are also acceptable substitutions.
- The orange juice can be replaced by tangerine juice, grapefruit juice, or even pomegranate juice.
- Marcona almonds are large flat Spanish almonds, and they have a richer, more intense flavor than general almonds. I found mine at (where else?) Trader Joe's, and most specialty grocers are likely to carry them. Normal blanched almonds can replace the marconas.
- Shaved parmigiano-reggiano or asiago can be substituted for the pecorino cheese. Mixed greens, frisee, or baby spinach can be substituted for the arugula.
Roasted Beet, Candied Almond, and Pecorino Salad
2 1/2 pounds golden beets, scrubbed and trimmed
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup marcona almonds
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallots
6 cups baby arugula
Shaved pecorino cheese
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. In a large baking dish, toss the beets with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel the beets and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces.
Meanwhile, line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter with the sugar, honey, salt, and cayenne and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the almonds and stir until evenly coated with the syrup. Scrape the almonds onto the parchment lined baking sheet in an even layer. Bake with the beets for 12 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Let cool and then break into pieces.
In a small saucepan, simmer the orange juice over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons, 10-15 minutes. Let cool and then transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in the vinegar, mustard, and shallots. Gradually whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil and season the dressing with salt and pepper. Add the beets and arugula and toss.
Transfer the salad to a platter or bowl. Garnish with the candied almonds and the shaved pecorino cheese.