Recipe Sleuth: Beet Salad With Grapefruit and Feta From Café Saint-Ex

This salad uses citrus fruit and a salty cheese to balance the sweet, earthy flavor of beets.

Photograph courtesy of Café Saint-Ex.

Café Saint-Ex is one of those rare neighborhood restaurants that pair a casual atmosphere with a serious menu. Chef Billy Klein changes his dishes with the seasons, but two items are always available: a chicken entrée and his roasted-beet salad. After toying with different variations in the salad, he found the perfect pairing of creamy Greek feta, spicy watercress, earthy beets, and tangy grapefruit—both fresh and candied. The salad has been on the menu for 2½ years.

Check your local farmers market for beets, which are available through the winter. For the best quality, Klein recommends looking for beets with the greens still attached—they may be dried out if their skin has been exposed to air where the stalks were removed. Peeling beets can be messy, so Klein says to use a disposable dishtowel for removing the skins. For a green with less punch, try substituting arugula for watercress.

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Roasted Beet Salad With Grapefruit Two Ways and Feta

Serves 6 to 8

For the beets:
1 bunch medium beets, about 1 pound
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
1½ teaspoons salt, or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Individually wrap each beet with foil and place in the oven on a tray. Cook the beets until they feel as soft as an orange, about 45 minutes to an hour. Unwrap the beets, and when they’re cool enough to handle, use a towel to rub the skin off. Cut the beets into half moons and place in a bowl. At this point, taste the beets; they can vary in flavor depending on where they’re grown. Add the vinegar, sugar, and salt to your liking and cool.

For the grapefruit (candied and segments):
2 large pink grapefruits
3 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the rind and extra pith from the grapefruit, and set aside the fruit. Remove excess pith from the rind and cut into 1⁄8-inch-thick slices. Place rind pieces into a small saucepan over medium-high and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and drain. Repeat this procedure two more times. After the third time, put 2 cups of the sugar into the pot and add just enough water to cover the rinds and sugar. Place back on the stove and cook on medium heat until the liquid starts to thicken. Remove the rind from the liquid, reserving the syrup for the salad dressing. Once the grapefruit rinds are drained, place them onto a Silpat on a cookie sheet, and place in the oven for about 4 minutes, until they’re slightly dried but still tacky. Toss the rinds in a bowl with the remaining cup of sugar. Shake off the excess sugar and set aside to cool.

Take the fruit from grapefruits and trim away any excess pith. You will see the separation between the individual segments. Using a sharp paring knife, cut away the segments by gently slicing along these separation lines down to the center of the grapefruit. Set aside.

Make the dressing:
½ cup grapefruit syrup (left over from candying)
½ cup white balsamic vinegar
1 egg yolk
¼ cup ground fennel seed
2 cups vegetable oil
Salt to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine the syrup, vinegar, egg yolk, and fennel seed. Whisk until fully mixed. Next, slowly drizzle the oil into the bowl, continuing to whisk until all the oil has been added. Finish with a little salt to taste.

Assemble the salad:
2 bunches watercress (baby arugula or any other bitter, spicy baby green will also work)
¼ pound Greek feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh ground black pepper

In a bowl, combine the beets, watercress, and feta cheese. Add enough of the grapefruit-fennel dressing to lightly coat and then toss with a little salt to taste. Top with the grapefruit segments and candied grapefruit. Finish with black pepper to taste.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.