This started out labeled as chutney, and no one knew how to eat it. Meaning what would that spicy condiment accompany? Pork or chicken satay maybe, served alongside a cucumber raita? What made it chutney, I suppose, was the diminutive dice, 1/8 inch max. And the even tinier cubes of hot green pepper and ginger. Doused with a little red wine vinegar and a squeeze of lime juice, this is a delicious concoction that I used to serve up at picnics, until it baffled our guests.
So this year, it dawned on me that there was nothing precious about the size of the diced beets. Dice them larger (3/8 to ½ inch), toss them with the same spicy dressing and some snippets of cilantro, and voilà, a beet salad anyone would recognize. It’s a great alternative to the ubiquitous diced beets with balsamic vinegar since each bite is surprisingly refreshing because of the restorative character of fresh ginger. It makes a great addition to a picnic buffet since the beets can be roasted well in advance. And even after being dressed, it keeps well for a few days. If making it early, add the cilantro just before serving.
Gingered Beet Salad (or Chutney), adapted from Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Vegetables
4 medium red beets
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp finely chopped jalapeno or Serrano pepper
1 tsp salt
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne (a little more if mild)
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp lime juice
1 tbsp torn cilantro leaves
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the beets in a shallow roasting pan, toss them with olive oil, a splash of water and a little salt. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast the beets until tender, 30-60 minutes depending on the age and size of the beets. Cool them, peel them and cut them into ½-inch dice for a salad, or 1/8-inch for chutney.
Combine the beets with the ginger, pepper and seasonings, and toss with vinegar and lime juice. Taste and adjust for salt, vinegar and spiciness.
Toss with cilantro just before serving. Leave the leaves whole or torn into large pieces if serving this as a salad. Mince the cilantro if using as chutney.
Serves 3-4 as a salad, and 6 as chutney.