The town where Stella hangs her shingle is popular with tourists. It has an inviting main street full of small independently owned shops, restaurants and offices. Bicycle racks and lamp posts hung with huge baskets of spring flowers appear intermittently along the brick paving, along with benches for sitting in the sun.
Stella has just enough pavement in front of her cafe to place three small black latticework tables with three chairs each. A retractable awning provides much needed summertime shade...but we aren't quite there yet. It is early May.
Still, her customers are reaching toward the sun like eager blossoms, their faces open to the air craving warmth and the myriad scents and flavours of spring, so Stella puts a special seasonal salad on the menu today: Roasted Beet and Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette. She invented the salad, quite by accident one day when using up leftovers in her upstairs fridge, and proclaimed it, 'just the thing for spring'. The slight bitterness of the spinach marries well with the tangy sweetness of the beets coated in the citrus dressing. The chopped veggies add crunch and texture as well as additional flavour.
While Savannah writes the day's specials on the blackboard in her curvaceous handwriting, complete with little coloured chalk drawings of beets, oranges and lemons, Kevin puts some Jaques Loussier on the stereo. The cafe team is ready for the lunch rush.
Here is Stella's recipe for this light and delicious salad, which of course, you may change and add to in any way you like. Use the recipe as a springboard (pun fully intended) to your own fresh and delicious creation. Roasted beets retain their juices and are full of concentrated flavour, but if you are short on time, you can peel, dice and cook them in water on the stove top.
Beets with Triple Citrus Vinaigrette (serves 4)
10-12 small beets
Set the oven to 450 degrees F. Scrub the beets and wrap them first in parchment paper and then in aluminum foil. Roast them in the oven until tender, at least 40 minutes for very small beets and up to an hour and a half for larger ones. When the beets are fork-tender, open the package and let them cool, peel them (this should be fairly easy when they are warm, but it will be a little messy. Beet juice rinses off the fingers well unless it comes in contact with lemon juice). Dice the beets and toss with 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the following vinaigrette:
Triple Citrus Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp. smooth Dijon mustard
3/4 cup lemon, lime and orange juice combined in any way you like. Stella often uses orange and lemon.
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp fresh chives
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
Whisk together the mustard, citrus juices, and salt. Slowly add the oil, whisking to form an emulsion. Add the honey and herbs, using the larger amount of honey if needed to balance the flavours. Store in fridge for up to one week.
To assemble the salad, spoon the beets onto a bed of baby spinach, and your choice of veggies, making an individual salad plate for each person. Stella used sweet orange peppers, Long English cucumber, white mushrooms and celery for a variety of textures and flavours in her salad. Drizzle the veggies with some more of the vinaigrette.
Writing and photo by Rebecca