Saturday, 24 December 2011 | 7 comments

A simple beet & barley salad

During the harvest and crush this year, Ben used a phrase that I latched onto. When racking wine in its initial stages of fermentation, the winemaker Ben works for calls for “big air”—pouring the wine from one container to another from a great height, to ensure that oxygen comes in contact with the juice. In winemaking, a certain amount of oxygenation of the juice is a good thing: it helps to stabilize the wine, protect it, and develop in the bottle. Too much oxygen during barrel- and bottle-age though, produces oxidation, a flaw. I love that idea. Taking a risk, to be sure. But that risk, in prudent amounts, protects and encourages growth. The next months will be a whirlwind—really, they already should be, but I’m a bit in denial. In two days, Ben and I are moving to a new home. It is old (the original part of the house was built in 1760). It is rural (it sits on 5+ acres and is surrounded by more vacant land). Ben is also going to Uruguay for three months to apprentice during the southern hemisphere harvest. Conveniently, though, he’ll have two whole weeks to settle into this house that I impulsively decided we needed to live in, before he leaves. Before he goes to Uruguay, we are taking a trip to Buenos Aires. After I get back from Buenos Aires, I have just a few days before I fly to Indonesia for work.Somewhere in there, Christmas and New Year’s have to happen. But I haven’t quite worked that out yet.I’m oddly undistressed that I haven’t really packed, or that I haven’t actually seen the attic of the house I’m moving into, or that I’m resigning myself to a very long commute, ending my car-free existence and becoming tangled up in horrible, cold-sounding things like auto insurance and (ugh) gas prices. Instead, I find myself humming a little, pondering very serious matters, like

1760 !!!!!!! That’s before the United States was even a COUNTRY.

La-di-da. It feels good, these imminent changes, and very unstressful, somehow—-possibly in contrast to an alternative plan I was entertaining, which consisted of 1) quit job 2) move out of house 3) tag along on Ben’s Uruguay adventure and then 4) ? That alternative plan had me in tears, nightly, for a few months. I wanted a change so badly. I needed it. But the stress of the job-quitting and the financial insecurity made me plain scared It was too much air; too much all at once.We need that fresh gasp of oxygen to thrive, to weather the years better; but we also must realize when to say no, this is too much freefall. We should be left exhilarated and a little uncomfortably windswept, but not paralyzed. I’m here with my little sister, packing a city life into boxes to move to the country. It’s Christmastime so I should probably be baking some lacy cookies or slow-cooking some enormous roast, but instead, I’m making this beet salad. It’s a little homely, but earthy and grounding—–right before the big air.

Beet & barley salad with horseradish

Much of my inspiration for any recipe involving vegetables comes from Nigel Slater’s Tender, which lists flavors that go along well with specific veggies. Horseradish is listed as a flavor that pairs well with beets, and oh, it does, adding a piquant kick to beets’ intense earthiness.
Keep all the ingredients separate until just before serving, to avoid that ’80s-lipstick-hot-pink that beets love to bleed onto anything that shares a plate with them.

You will need

    1 cup dry barley
    2 cups water
    Coarse salt
    4-5 beets, trimmed of greens and trailing roots
    1 cup greek yogurt
    1 teaspoon prepared horseradish (or if you’re lucky enough, horseradish root pounded to a paste with perhaps a little olive oil to keep it together)
    Chives, chopped (optional)


    In a pot, bring barley, water, and a few pinches of salt to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover. Cook, checking to make sure the pot doesn’t boil over, about 45 minutes or until barley is tender and water is completely absorbed.

    While the barley is simmering, place the trimmed beets in a pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and continue to boil, about 40 minutes. Plunge the beets into cold water. The skins should be able to be peeled or rubbed away easily. After the skins are gone, set the beets aside. (If, after peeling the first one, you think the beets aren’t tender enough, continue to boil them a bit longer.)

    In a small bowl, mix the greek yogurt and horseradish well. Taste for seasoning, and salt if desired. If you like a little more kick, add more horseradish.

    Slice the beets into small wedges. In a low bowl, layer cooked barley and beets. Top with a dollop of horseradish cream, and garnish with chives, if desired.

    Eat this salad warm for dinner, or cool for lunch.

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§ 7 responses to A simple beet & barley salad

  • Sarah, it’s a good metaphor. I hope it all goes well. A house in the country! That should be air enough to keep you vital.

    Good luck with all the packing and moving especially–I know what a pain it can be, discovering how many things you actually own and need to bundle in newspaper before moving day.

  • yay! So many cool things! Happy for your new changes. New house? awesome! will you make a garden? I lived in Buenos Aires for a year. If you need any tips let me know. I also traveled to Uruguay, Punta del Este do be exact. Cant wait to see a pic of the new house. Oh yeah, Indo? Seriously? Want your life. Happy Holidays xx N

  • Some very big changes, sounds like you have adventure seriously laid out before you. You left me wondering – fly to Indonesia for work? How long will you be there and will you be living in this house again after you come back and until Ben returns?

    And yes, I can just see gardening posts from you (perhaps) if you do… that would be lovely.

  • Oh, hooray! I’m glad for you. Wishing you new adventures, safe travels, and a happy new year!

  • Celeste

    This looks delicious!

    I like to roast my beets in the oven, in a foil pouch to control spatters. The sugars give off a lovely fragrance as they cook, and the skins slip right off when they cool off a bit. Clean up is easy, too. Lately I’ve been thin-slicing them with a mandoline to get silky beet “noodles” to add to dishes.

    Great blog!!!

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