I love nuts. All kinds of nuts. Maybe that’s not quite true. Let me modify that to most kinds of nuts. If I had to pick just one nut that I love more than most, it would be hazelnuts. I do have a thing for hazelnuts. They’re round, and tasty, and fabulous toasted, and if you crush them marvellous things happen. Despite my love for hazelnuts, I don’t want to talk about them right this minute. I want to talk about pistachios.
I’ve always been a little wary of pistachios. I first caught sight of one while sitting in a pub in Kent, a very long time ago. I was most likely drinking cider at the time. English cider – the stuff that makes you fall over if you have too much at one sitting. I do not recall my wariness of pistachios being related to having had too much cider, but I could be mistaken. Especially if I’d had too much cider.
I was a terribly shy teenager, and pubs were not a place I relished going, so I didn’t go often. I remember one night though, sitting in a pub in Chatham, with Tim my first beau, and a bag of pistachios. I think we had pistachios because the pub was out of pork scratchings. I know! Whatever next?
Pistachios were not common in England at the time – not for regular people anyway. You’d find them hidden away in Middle Eastern pastry delicacies, but we didn’t eat
much any of those either. I have a suspicion that the lords and ladies of the land dabbled in pistachios, but it wasn’t for years after that they really reached the masses. How they found their way into a pub in Chatham so early on in their career I am not quite sure.
Tim poured the unshelled nuts out of the packet and onto the table, in amongst the beer mats. I stared at them, not quite knowing what I was supposed to do. I broke open one of the shells to reveal this strange, shrivelled, green and purple thing. As I stood in my kitchen shelling pistachios for a salad the other day I realized that my feelings towards pistachios haven’t changed. I still think they’re strange, shrivelled, green and purple things.
This recipe calls for toasted pistachios. Let me warn you – these wrinkly little suckers are more difficult to toast successfully than other nuts because they are so lumpy bumpy. Plus their color makes it harder to tell when browning has started. So go careful. It’s worth repeating: no one likes burnt nuts.
While I may still be wary of pistachios, one thing I am not wary of at all is the perfectly perky, decidedly beautiful, bright green lettuce known as the Butter Lettuce. Or Boston or Bibb, depending on where you’re from. Whatever you call them, I *love* this lettuce. I can’t think of a lettuce that looks fresher or more vibrant than this one; or makes me want to eat it more. So pairing my very favorite lettuce with those strange, shrivelled, green and purple things called pistachios somehow balances everything out for me; and adding beets just makes this a total winner.
The sweetness of the roasted beets, the tanginess of the vinegar yogurt dressing, the crispness of the lettuce, and the crunch of the pistachios, along with the gentle flavor of tarragon makes this a favorite salad of mine. It looks magnificent (as long as you don’t put the dressing on too soon), and paired with a protein dish makes a wonderful SANE* meal. It is very quick to prepare once the beets have roasted. The first time I made this the beets almost never made it to the salad – the aroma that rises out of the foil packet as you unwrap it is enough to make every beet lover just want to dig right in without even letting them cool down. Even The Big Guy - a diehard beet hater – downed a dish of this salad and enjoyed it. And I definitely like pistachios more in this salad than in a bag at the local pub.
- ¾ lb / 335g beets, top and bottom trimmed off (small beets will roast quicker)
- 3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- ½ cup / 4 fl oz. Greek yogurt
- 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 Boston (Butter) lettuce
- 2 TBSP fresh tarragon, finely chopped
- ½ cup unsalted pistachios, toasted
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Place trimmed beets on a piece of foil and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and fold the foil into a packet around the beets.
- Place the foil package on a rimmed baking sheet (in case of leaks) and roast until beets are easily pierced with a paring knife, 30 to 45 minutes, depending on their size.
- Remove beets from oven and when cool enough to handle, peel them and cut into wedges.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons oil; season dressing with salt and pepper to taste. The dressing will be very thick so thin to your desired consistency with 1 to 4 tablespoons water.
- Divide lettuce among plates, or place on bed of serving dish and top with beets, tarragon and pistachios.
- Immediately before serving, spoon / pour the dressing over the salad. The beets will “bleed” into the dressing so do not add the dressing until the very last second.