Diane's birthday party is tonight! My brother Douglas is hosting (so we can decorate his place while we're there) and making chili, Mom is bringing cabbage rolls (vegan and non-veg), and I'm on for focaccia and salad.
I have been, as you know, taking a stroll down memory lane with The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two, and wandered across this recipe. Actually, what I'm going to post is not that recipe exactly, but only because I had just one big beet, which came to about half a cup after it had been cooked instead of the 3 1/2 cups the recipe calls for. My family aren't huge salad eaters, but bringing a cup of salad for five people is…well, it just isn't the thing, so I made some additions of my own and actually judging from taste tests along the way in my opinion I improved on it. The major improvements consisted of slow-frying the beets instead of boiling them, and using balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar (which I generally dislike).
The salad itself is kind of trippy though. I picked it mainly because I had this beet but also because it looked so strange. Beet and pineapple? Hard to imagine. Why pineapple? Well, as it happens, pineapple pieces are rather translucent, and take on the loveliest colour when mixed with the beets, becoming like adorable little magenta jewels. The sweetness of the pineapple (and the balsamic vinegar, if I may say so) compliments the earthy taste of the beets beautifully. This is a sweet-ish salad, in fact truly more of a condiment, but I think it will go well with the other items on the menu, particularly the cabbage rolls.
On edit: It did, and several people had second helpings!
Beet and pineapple salad
loosely adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two
makes approximately 2 cups
1 very large or 2 regular beets (about 1/2 cup when cooked and diced)
1/3 cup chopped, drained pineapple (I used canned)
1/3 cup celery, finely diced
1 green onion or 1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup kidney beans, or black beans, cooked
1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
sea salt, to taste
Peel the beets and cut them into 1/4 inch dice. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a non-stick pan and sauté the beets on medium heat until barely tender, approximately 20 minutes.
Combine the cooked beets with the pineapple chunks, celery, and green onion or shallot. Add the beans, the remaining olive oil, and the red wine vinegar, and add salt to taste.
Chill the salad for several hours, then stir it up again and take it out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before serving, so that it is cool but not ice-cold. Serve in small bowls or on lettuce leaves.
This salad, though kewl and quite delicious, will not make me the culinary star of the party, I can tell already. Vegans, if you haven't learned this already, very few salads ever will. But here is a recipe that will guarantee you a place at the giddy heights of popularity. Hosts will request it, or if you tentatively suggest to someone who's eaten it before, "Well, perhaps I could bring focaccia…" the reaction is sure to be an enthusiastic "Oh, yes! That would be wonderful!"
This is because the recipe I am about to disclose contains almost no nutrients—in fact, it is candy cleverly disguised as bread. I never make this for myself, but I tend to make it for all kinds of social events. "What's your secret?" the guests all ask, as they inhale big wedges of the stuff. The secret is sugar. Sugar and fat. Sugar and fat and refined starch. The magic fails if you use an atom of whole wheat flour, or something other than white sugar. The recipe comes from the booklet that accompanied my first bread machine, a West Bend Automatic, now retired. I've veganized it, but that's basically it.
1 cup + tbsp water
3 cups all purpose flour
3 1/2 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp Earth Balance
2 tsp active dry yeast or 1 1/2 tsp fast rise yeast
Toppings (optional except where indicated):
olive oil (not optional)
sea salt, preferably rough-ground (also not optional)
cracked black pepper
I generally make this in the bread machine, and if you are doing the same, you'll be adding all the focaccia ingredients in the order your machine's handbook advises. Put it on Dough cycle, and when it's done turn the dough out onto a floured surface, pat into a rough circle, and, if you love yourself, let it rest 10 minutes so it will be easier to handle. If you're making it by hand, presumably you know what to do; this is like a soft pizza dough.
Once the dough has rested, either pat it out into a larger circle or roll it with a rolling pin (I'm a rolling pin girl) to the thickness you want. The thickness will approximately double during rising and cooking. Place the round on a pizza stone or cookie sheet (I'm lucky enough to have a gorgeous ceramic pizza stone that Diane and our mother made for me) sprinkled with cornmeal.
Now take your fingers and poke shallow depressions all over the dough to make little places that all the olive oil you're going to pour on can settle. Pour on olive oil to taste—either regular or extra-virgin, whatever you like—but use at least 3 tbsp, and spread it all around over the surface of the dough. Now add your other toppings. Keep it simple, if you take my advice. Usually I just use sea salt and a little oregano, though today I used caramelized onions and sea salt.
Now turn on your oven to 350F. Once it heats up, put the focaccia in; my oven takes about 10 minutes to heat up, and that much rising time is enough. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the bottom is done and the top is golden.
If you can get it warm and fragrant to the party, so much the better, but it should be eaten within a few hours of coming out of the oven. Enjoy!
Happy birthday, Diane!