A few days ago, I admitted that I hate beets. Now, you’d think I’d announced I hate sunshine or bluebonnets the way people reacted. “How did this happen?” said one. “I don’t understand,” said another.
Finally, however, a few stood with me in solidarity. And we all agreed that beets taste like dirt.
But then I kept running into a recipe that appealed to me: ensalada de Noche Buena or Christmas Eve salad. It’s a colorful mix of oranges, jicama, apples, pomegranate seeds, peanuts and yes, beets.
As the name implies, this salad is traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Mexico and the Southwest. I’d never heard of it, but I read about it in Texas Highways magazine and learned that it’s also quite popular in West Texas along the Texas-Mexico border.
I began to research this salad and found that no two recipes are alike. I love this in a dish as it means that people will be very opinionated about it and yet there’s no right or wrong way to create it. For instance, I learned that some people add bananas and pineapple to their salad, which makes it feel more tropical. Others add crushed peppermint candy to their salad, playing up the holiday aspect of the dish. There were countless other variations that I saw but the one thing that they all had in common was that they all called for, yes, beets.
Well then. It soon became clear to me that if I wanted to eat ensalada de Noche Buena I’d have to get over my aversion. So I went to the farmers market and bought a beet. Assuming bigger is better, I bought one that was the size of a bowling ball and then spent the rest of the day roasting the darn thing. (Please note, if you’ve never cooked beets before, smaller is definitely better.)
Hours later when the beet was finally cooked, I tossed it with sliced oranges, jicama, apples, peanuts, cilantro, pomegranate seeds and lettuce and then dressed it with a tangy mix of mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice and chipotle chiles. With an all-star roster of ingredients like that, how could it not be great? Crunchy, tangy, sweet and fiery—ensalada de Noche Buena is indeed a stupendous dish.
So if you think you don’t like beets, consider this a wonderful introduction to their charms. And if you’re already a fan, you should definitely add this dish to your repertoire. And yes, I am now a fan of beets—consider me a changed woman.
For the salad:
1 pound beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt to taste
2 pounds navel oranges, peeled and diced
1 pound jicama, peeled and diced
1/2 pound apples, cored and diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
6 cups torn Romaine lettuce leaves
For the dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream or Greek-style yogurt
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 canned chipotle chile, minced
Salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Clean the beets and remove any leafy stems, reserving for another use. Place the beets on a sheet of foil and toss with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and then wrap the beets in the foil. Place foil-wrapped beets on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until you can easily stick a fork into the beets. Once cool, rub the beets with a paper towel to remove the skin. Slice the beets into half-moon shapes and place the sliced beets into a large bowl.
Add to the beet bowl the diced oranges, jicama, apples, cilantro, peanuts, pomegranate seeds and Romaine lettuce. Toss until well combined.
To make the dressing, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, orange juice and chipotle chile. Taste and add salt and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat.
Yield: 8 servings