People who are invited to a Russian party for the first time are always amazed of how many little bites, known as Zakuski, are on the table. The idea is to prepare your palate and make you hungry for the main meal to come. One of the favorites is a simple but amazingly tasty and beautiful looking beet salad with crunchy walnuts and sweet and chewy prunes or some times dates.
This salad has many variations. Here is one of mine. —Kukla
4 to 6
• 3 medium dark red fresh beets, washed and trimmed
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• About 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
• 1 tablespoon of fragrant honey
• 2-3 fresh garlic cloves finely grated or pressed
• 1/2 to 3/4 cups finely chopped walnuts, toasted
• About 8 chopped prunes or medjool dates
• Salt to taste and about 10 grinds of black pepper
• Zest of 1 medium lemon and about 1 tablespoon of juice
• Fresh herbs such as basil, mint or tarragon, to taste
Wrap each beet in foil and roast in the oven until tender, about 1 hour. Open the foil and let cool.
When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel using a paper towel, then grate on the large side of a box grater or cut into very thin matchsticks.
In a mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, honey, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper; whisk together until slightly emulsified.
Add the beets, walnuts, prunes or dates and the herbs you are using to the dressing and toss well to coat all the ingredients. Taste the salad for seasoning and add whatever you think it needs.
Serve at room temperature or chilled, store in an airtight container.
Note: To make the beet salad tower for a festive presentation, place the salad into a clean empty container with a lid; using a soup spoon lightly press the salad, cover with the lid and refrigerate for about an hour before serving; then carefully invert onto the plate.