I was raised by a beet-hating mother, so we never ate them when I was growing up. But when I left the nest and actually tasted a “forbidden” fresh beet, I was smitten with its sweet earthiness and beautiful color. For years, my mother and I battled back and forth: I relentlessly tried to convince her of beets’ many virtues, and she adamantly hung on to her contempt for them. One Sunday, she called Lucques to ask me what we were serving for supper that night. And then I did it—I lied to my mother. I couldn’t help myself, and made up the name of a beetless dish that I knew would tempt her. I told myself it was all for a good cause. When Mom came in that night and tasted roasted beets, bathed in toasty cumin vinaigrette and arranged on the plate with so many delicious treats, like Nyons olives, fried chickpeas, and slivers of dried ricotta, I knew I had cured her of her beet-hating ways.
- 3 bunches beets, mixed colors if possible
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus more for seasoning
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained (recipe follows)
- ¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
- ½ cup Nyons olives or other strong-tasting oil-cured black olives
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
- ¼ pound ricotta salata cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup diced onion
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 chile de arbol, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1½ cups dried chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- A healthy pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 cinnamon stick
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut the greens off the beets, leaving about 1/2 inch of the stem still attached. (Save the leaves for sautéing later—they are delicious!) Clean the beets well, and toss them with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Place the beets in a roasting pan with a splash of water in the bottom. Cover the pan tightly with foil, and roast the beets about 40 minutes, until they’re tender when pierced. (The roasting time will depend on the size and type of beet, so it’s best to check them earlier.) When the beets are done, carefully remove the foil. Let cool, and peel the beets by slipping off the skins with your fingers. Slice the beets into wedges and place in a large bowl. (If the beets are small, just cut them in half.)
While the beets are roasting, toast the cumin seeds in a medium pan over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes, until the seeds release their aroma and darken slightly. Pound half the cumin seeds to a fine powder in a mortar.
Transfer this powder to a bowl with the remaining cumin seeds, a teaspoon salt, red wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil. Taste for balance and seasoning.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the cumin pan, and heat 2 minutes, until the oil is very hot. Add the chickpeas, and fry them 4 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan often, until they are crispy. Drain on paper towels, and season with a few pinches of salt and some pepper.
Add the shallots to the beets, season with a teaspoon salt and a few grindings of black pepper, and gently toss them with three-quarters of the vinaigrette. Season to taste, and add more lemon, salt, or freshly ground black pepper if you like.
Gently toss in the olives and parsley leaves. Add a little more vinaigrette if necessary.
Cut the ricotta salata into 1/4-inch-thick slabs.
Arrange half the salad on a platter. Tuck half the cheese in and around the beets and scatter half the chickpeas on top. Place the rest of the salad on top and nestle the remaining ricotta salata and chickpeas into the salad.
TO PREPARE THE CHICKPEAS:
Heat a medium pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in the olive oil, wait a minute, and then add the onion, garlic, chile, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook for a minute or two until the onion is wilted and then add the chickpeas, paprika, cayenne, and cinnamon stick. Stir for a few minutes, coating the chickpeas with the oil and spices.
Cover with water by 3 inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to low, and place a paper towel on top of the chickpeas to keep them under the surface.
Simmer for 30 minutes, and then add 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Continue cooking on a low simmer about 1 hour, until the chickpeas are tender. As they cook, add water as necessary. When they are done, taste for seasoning and cool the chickpeas in their juices.
Nutritional information is based on 1/8 teaspoon added salt per serving.