Okay, I’m going full-on hippie with you guys today — in the most delicious way possible, I promise! Super sweet and tender roasted beets, beet greens, earthy French lentils, briny feta, spicy-sweet-crispy candied pumpkin seeds: This satisfying, protein-packed salad is my new favorite way to use the whole beet, all the way from the hairy tips of its roots to its ruby-colored stems and the frilly edges of its red-veined leaves. Yes, it’s roots-to-greens cooking at its best.
By the way, slightly off-topic but I could really use a bowl of this wholesome goodness right about now, because the hubby and I just got back from the westside car wash, which means that we also just got back from a trip to the carwash donut shop aka Underwest Donuts. (The plain Old Fashioned is my favorite… 🙂 So, if you ever find yourself on west 46th street with a dingy car, now you know.
All right, getting back on track.
We often think of beets as a winter vegetable, but the great thing about buying fresh, young beets during the warmer months (since they make an appearance at the farmers market pretty much year-round) is that they are smaller and more tender and sweet than their over-wintered counterparts. And, they often arrive with their green tops still attached – which, at this time of year, are beautifully tender and mild, with a flavor similar to ruby chard or spinach, but with a beet-ier edge.
Inspiration for this dish, as usual, came from a trip to my local greenmarket. Strolling by a new farm stand, I spotted the most gorgeous baby beets that I’ve seen in a long time. Plump, jewel-like, and leafy, they looked like they had just been pulled from the ground, and I couldn’t leave without them. Since earthy lentils are a natural pairing with the sweetness of beets, I decided on a roasted beet and lentil salad that would also feature those gorgeous beet greens, sautéed and then lightly steamed so they would be tender and retain lots of flavor and nutrition.
Tied together with a bright and flavorful maple-Dijon vinaigrette, goat’s feta, and spicy candied pumpkin seeds, this salad is fantastic on its own as a side dish, and it also makes a lovely plant-based main course served over leafy salad greens or a cooked grain.
Roasted Beet and French Lentil Salad with Beet Greens, Feta, and Spicy Candied Pepitas
Note: if you can’t find beets with their greens attached, substitute a small bunch of Swiss chard or spinach for the beet greens.
Serves 4 to 6
6 smallish beets, with greens attached (about 1 pound)
1 cup French lentils, rinsed
1 peeled garlic clove
2 bay leaves
extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
feta cheese (optional)
spicy candied pepitas (optional – see below)
for the maple-cayenne pepitas:
1/2 cup pepitas (shelled green pumpkin seeds)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon Two-Tone Gomasio (or 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt)
Preheat oven to 400F.
Trim greens from beets so that about 1/2 inch of stalk remains attached to each beet. Set aside greens. Scrub beets, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and wrap tightly in parchment paper and foil. Place on a baking sheet. Roast until beets are tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Run beets under cold water and slide off skins. Cut peeled beets into bite-sized wedges.
Combine lentils, garlic, bay leaves, 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, until lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside, discarding garlic and bay leaves.
Wash beet greens and cut leaves and stalks crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add a handful of greens, toss until wilted, and repeat until all greens have been added to pan. Add a pinch of salt and a splash of water, cover pan and cook on low until greens are tender, about 5 minutes.
Combine mustard, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add beet wedges, lentils, and beet greens to bowl and toss gently to combine. Marinate for 5 minutes to allow the beets and lentils to absorb the flavor of the vinaigrette.
Serve the beet and lentil mixture on its own as a side dish, or over leafy greens or cooked grains as a main course. Garnish with feta and/or candied pepitas, if desired.
To make the candied pepitas:
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add pumpkin seeds and toast, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in cayenne, then add maple syrup and gomasio and continue to cook, stirring continuously, until the liquid has evaporated.
Transfer to a parchment-lined plate and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.