Monday, February 1, 2010

Cilantro-Lime Beet Salad with Cotija

We invented this salad when we needed a potluck dish for a tamale party, hence the Mexican flavorings of lime, cilantro, red onion and cotija. The tang of the quick-pickled onions and cilantro-lime dressing and salty cotija cheese are perfect counterparts to the sweet beets.

Cotija is a hard, salty Mexican cheese; if you can't find it, try ricotta salata (probably not a helpful substitute suggestion if you don't have a bountiful cheese selection in your grocery store!) or feta (which is softer and will have a different flavor, but still delivers the saltiness you're after).

6 large beets
1 small red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
3 limes
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro (plus some extra for garnish)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cotija cheese, cubed

Scrub the beets and place in a large saucepan with plenty of water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 45 minutes to an hour, until beets are very tender when poked with a knife. Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, place the onions in a bowl with the juice of 2 of the limes and a few shakes of salt. Marinate while you boil the beets and make the dressing--they'll be less harsh and slightly pickled when you're ready to add them.

When the beets have cooled down, peel them and chop into 1-inch cubes. To make the dressing, combine the zest and juice of the remaining lime, olive oil, cilantro, cayenne and salt in a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth green mixture. Toss the beets with the dressing and top with the pickled onions (and their juice), cotija and some extra cilantro for garnish.

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