Roasted Beet, Walnut, Feta and Kale Salad: The harvest

We are headed into harvest time and I once heard Chef Michael Chiarello describe it as a time where one foot is in the summer and one foot in the fall.  I found it such a beautiful description – that split of the seasons, the moment that the year has a perfect balance.

Sometimes harvest is something different, which is what I experienced today.  For the past 4 years, I’ve been cooking the teachers at Children’s elementary school a meal, twice a year, always on the Thursday that I set up for the semiannual book fair. It’s at the Teacher’s preview luncheon, when teachers have an opportunity to choose books for their wishlist boxes and enjoy the book fair without 30 or more kids running around and asking a million questions.  Over the past 4 years, I’ve cooked and served a light lunch to some fantastic teachers at our school, favoring simple wholesome food.  I’ve cooked chili  most often, as it is always a huge hit with the teachers.  This year I decided to go with a different menu, kale salad with pecans and Parmesan cheese, turkey arugula meatballs on top of a small dinner roll with provolone cheese, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  I served freshly cut apples as well as an assortment of drinks.  

With my two loyal and regular assistants by my side, we began serving the teachers.  One helped keep the kale salad flowing, and one made sure that there was enough of a rationing system so that all the teachers would be able to have some meatballs.  (I had hand rolled exactly 124, which makes 62 mini-sandwiches, and I knew there would be some people who would want more.)  My favorite part of the day, was looking over to see that teachers had grabbed chairs and were sitting around in a circle together.  They laughed while eating, and I saw shoulders relax, jokes made, and overall a feeling of warmth and goodness.

That was my harvest today.  I think through the continual planting of consistent food and service, teachers have come to appreciate the moment of respite in their day in the food that they ate.  I saw the harvest of goodness, happiness and kindness today and it made me smile.

In honor of the harvest, both of the bounty of the earth and the bounty of human happiness, I made this wonderful beet salad.  I often roast two kinds of beets all at once, peel the skin off, slice and leave them chilled in the fridge so that I can add them to a salad whenever I wish.  I candy the walnuts all at once, and leave them in a tightly sealed container so that I can enjoy them whenever I want.  I make the dressing ahead of time, so that whenever I feel like it, I can have this salad at my beck and call.  It’s the perfect combination of sweet, salty, and nutty all in a harvest-themed salad.  I’ve served it multiple times at church functions, always to rave reviews.  You can enjoy it on your own, but I guarantee that if you share, you’ll also notice a harvest of good will and love.

Roasted Beet, Walnut, Feta and Kale Salad
Serves 5 to 6

3 medium bunches Lacinato/dinosaur kale, washed and rinsed well, roughly chopped (8 cups chopped) OR 8 cups of baby kale

1 or two colors of beets, roasted, sliced

½ cup finely chopped red onions
¼ red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
¼  cup extra virgin olive oil
¼  teaspoon fine grain sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups whole walnuts (You’ll need only 1 cup for this salad, but go ahead and make extra)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter

¾  cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

If you’ve never dealt with dinosaur/lacinato kale, you’ll need to remove the stem before trying to eat it.  I’ve found the fastest way is to simply grab the stem with one hand, and with the other, start at the base of the leaf, and it a quick motion, strip the leaf upwards until the stem is left stripped.  Wash, dry very well in a salad spinner, and then roughly chop.

In a large jar, add chopped red onions.  Pour red wine vinegar and sugar over onions and shake vigorously so as to coat onions with vinegar sugar mixture.  Add olive oil, salt, and pepper and set aside until rest of the salad is done, so that onions have time to pickle.  It’s okay if the dressing separates and the vinegar stays around the onions because it aids in the pickling process.

In a large fry pan over medium heat, add walnuts, sugar and butter.  As butter and sugar begin to melt, continuously stir mixture.  Heat for 5 to 7 minutes, until sugar is melted and and butter coats nuts.  Immediately turn nuts out onto a piece of parchment paper, and begin separating the nuts into individual pieces.  Move quickly, otherwise nuts will clump together.

Once all the components are prepared, put together the salad.  If using dinosaur kale, toss kale with dressing and massage and let dressing help wilt the kale for about 6 minutes.  Then place kale on desired serving plate and add sliced beets, walnuts, feta and a nice bit of freshly ground black pepper.

If using baby kale, quickly toss kale with dressing, and then add beets, walnuts, feta, and a healthy grind of black pepper on top.  Serve immediately.  Both versions are really lovely, with the regular tuscan kale version being a sturdier salad, standing up to a bit of time delay while the baby kale does not.  If you can serve it immediately, baby kale is an excellent choice.  If it is going to sit for a while, then definitely use the tuscan kale.

Printable recipe
For the harvest.

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