When I worked in Midtown in New York City I often dropped by to pick up lunch at Fresco, the famed Italian restaurant that sported a convenient and delicious salad bar.
I gravitated to the mysterious beet, lentil, and goat cheese concoction which sold for a fortune an ounce but was satisfying and nutritious mid-day filler.
I tried to deconstruct the dish, and as I was going through a period of fascination with Moroccan condiments and spices I came up with the following version which is earthy and colorful.
Pomegranate syrup provides a good counterbalance to the beets’ sweetness, cumin and cinnamon give it depth, and cilantro a striking green to spike up the magenta of the beet.
Spiced Roasted Beet Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese
4 medium beets
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry lentils, preferably organic green French, rinsed
1 tablespoon plus 3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup or molasses
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground fennel seed
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ small red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro, divided
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Trim and wash the beets thoroughly, wrap them in foil, place on a cookie sheet and roast on the bottom rack of the oven for 1 hour or so, until they can be pierced with the sharp knife all the way through. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely (Approximately ½ hour).
3. In the meantime, prepare the lentils. Bring two cups of salted water (1/4 teaspoon of salt) with a bay leaf to a boil, add the lentils, and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for 25 minutes until most of the water is absorbed and the lentils are soft but not too mushy. Remove from heat and keep the lentils covered and another 5 minutes. Remove the lid and coat lentils with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
4. To make the dressing, combine juice of ½ lemon with vinegar, pomegranate syrup, and spices and whisk in the remaining olive oil. Fold in onion, garlic, and ½ of cilantro.
5. Peel the beets and cut them into 1 inch cubes. Gently combine them with the lentils and the dressing in a large bowl while the lentils are still warm. When cooled completely, adjust seasoning and stir in juice of ½ lemon.
6. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Discard the garlic clove. Serve at room temperature with goat cheese, cinnamon, and the rest of the cilantro and sprinkled on top.
Prep and cook time: 2 hours