Bon Appétit (April 2010)
That's the thought that came into our heads when we saw this salad. Rhubarb is something we've only cooked with once before, in a sweet dish of Rice Pudding with Poached Rhubarb. So we still tend to think of it as an "exotic" ingredient.
And we loved the idea of adding rhubarb to a fairly familiar beet salad with oranges and goat cheese (familiar, yes, but nonetheless one of our favorite combinations!) We thought the sourness of the rhubarb would make a terrific counterpoint to the citrusy, sweet flavors of the oranges and beets, as well as the creamy, sharp, savory feta.
But there's just one liiiiittle thing we forgot. That would be the rhubarb.
See, we were having some friends over for dinner on a weekday night. So to make things easier, we roasted the beets and simmered the rhubarb the night before, as the recipe suggests.
Then, when it actually came time to serve the salads, we carefully assembled each one with watercress, beets, oranges, feta and the vinaigrette dressing. We completely forgot the rhubarb, which remained sliced and stored in the fridge.
We photographed it, served it, and didn't realize our mistake until the next morning.
When we realized our omission, we slapped our foreheads, rolled our eyes and decided to make the salad again a few nights later (after all, we still had most of the ingredients we needed).
So for our salad redux, we roasted some more beets, assembled the salads again and made sure to include the rhubarb this time.
And here's the thing: We hated it.
Now, we know rhubarb isn't for everyone. Its distinctive sourness can make it a turnoff. And it's entirely possible that we didn't simmer it in sugar for long enough. It's also possible that the three unanticipated days in the fridge didn't do the rhubarb any favors. (It was limp and spongy, reminding us very much of the texture of crabmeat.)
But we've really enjoyed rhubarb when we've had it in the past, so we're not exactly sure what the problem was.
When we'd mistakenly served the salad sans rhubarb, we loved it! The classic combo of beets and feta and orange was delicious, and we really enjoyed the tart, bright vinaigrette with the slightly bitter watercress.
We'd thought the rhubarb would add a welcome sour note to temper all the sweetness and acidity going on. But in the end, the rhubarb didn't end up being an enhancement to this salad. It was more of an intrusion.
Did we mess up? Do we need to stay on the rhubarb train?
(This photo: Bon Appétit)
• 8 2- to 2 1/2-inch-diameter red or yellow beets, 4 of each color if available
• 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• Coarse kosher salt
• 3 cups water
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 pound trimmed rhubarb stalks, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
• 3 large oranges
• 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon minced shallot
• 1 teaspoon honey
• 3 cups watercress sprigs
• 1 1/4 cups coarsely crumbled feta cheese (about one 7-ounce package)
• Fresh chervil leaves (optional)
• Preheat oven to 400°F. Place beets on large sheet of foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle with coarse salt. Wrap beets in foil. Roast beets until tender when pierced with fork, about 1 hour. Unwrap and cool beets. Peel, then cut each into 8 wedges.
• Bring 3 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, and pinch of coarse salt to simmer in large saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb. Simmer over medium heat until just tender but still intact, 1 to 2 minutes (do not overcook or rhubarb will be mushy). Using slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to platter and cool completely. DO AHEAD Beets and rhubarb can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.
• Finely grate enough peel from 1 orange to measure 1/2 teaspoon; transfer to small bowl and reserve for dressing. Cut off peel and white pith from all oranges. Working over medium bowl to catch juice and using small sharp knife, cut between membranes to release orange segments into bowl; squeeze membranes to release juice into bowl. Transfer 2 tablespoons orange juice to bowl with orange peel. Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, honey, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil into bowl with orange peel and orange juice mixture. Season dressing with coarse salt and pepper.
• Arrange watercress, beets, rhubarb, and orange segments on 6 plates. Sprinkle with feta and drizzle with dressing. Garnish with chervil leaves, if desired, and serve.