I love the combination of earthiness, creaminess and pungency in a European herring salad, where the pickled fish is tossed with chopped potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and beets. This combination, sometimes including chopped apples, is enjoyed in Scandinavia, Russia and Northern Germany — essentially, wherever the ground is frozen much of the time. Well, the ground hasn’t been frozen for a while in New York, but we’ve still got rations of winter’s potatoes and beets before spring vegetables enter the scene. So I made a somewhat deconstructed version of the traditional salad, swapping in pickled fennel and sharp capers for herring.
This is a salad to break out your good olive oil for. It’s a simple dish that anyone can make so long as they know how to boil a few thing and slice them. But the flavors really kick in once you add a flavorful olive oil, some pickled things, and fresh herbs.
I’ve roasted the beets, to seal in their flavors a little more, though they might as well be placed in a pot to boil like the potato and egg. (Just don’t use the same pot, as they’ll stain everything Easter-egg pink.) Such little beets required a small amount of time covered in the oven, before their skins could be slipped off and sliced for the salad.
I had a jar of pickled fennel stalks put up some time ago. These lent the dish a welcome anise flavor in addition to perking it up with acidity and saltiness. Sicilian capers, which are oversized and kept dry and salted, lent some more. To go with the fennel theme, some sprigs of a fresh bulb were sprinkled on top for some welcome freshness and green.
You might be tempted to go heavy on the finishing olive oil, and this dish is very light compared to the heavily mayonnaised European standby. All of the rounds of potato, beets, and hard-boiled egg will absorb it like sponges and acquire a nice sheen. But it’s also easy to go light on the oil, I think, when the salad is composed in a flattish pile. Each bite has layers of dimension and intrigue, especially from gripping a caper or pickled thing. And by not mixing it all up to begin with like in other versions, the potatoes still resemble potatoes and the eggs still eggs, rather than pinkish blobs.
Beet, Egg & Potato Salad with Pickled Fennel and Capers
(makes about 4 servings)
3-4 baby-sized beets, roasted simply
1-2 medium-sized potatoes of any kind
1 tablespoon or so pickled fennel stalks (or substitute any finely chopped pickled vegetable)
1-2 teaspoons capers
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
handful fresh fennel sprigs for garnish
Roast the beets as per the recipe in the link above. Let cool, and peel. Slice into thin rounds.
Place the potatoes and eggs in a medium saucepan and fill with water to cover. Bring to a boil and let boil about 5 minutes. Remove eggs. Continue boiling the potatoes until just tender. Let cool. Peel the eggs and slice into thin rounds. Slice the potatoes into similarly thin rounds.
Arrange the potatoes, beets and eggs onto serving plates. Sprinkle the pickled fennel and capers on each one, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil on each, followed by the lemon juice. Garnish each with the fresh fennel sprigs.
(for 4 servings)
4 baby beets (at $2.50/bunch): $1.25
2 medium-small potatoes (at $1/lb): $0.70
2 eggs (at $4/dozen): $0.50
1 tablespoon pickled fennel stalks (homemade): $0.20
1 teaspoon Sicilian capers: $1.00
2 tablespoons good olive oil: $0.30
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice: $0.20
handful fresh fennel sprigs: $0.25
salt, pepper: $0.05
Four brownie points: This is a pretty filling salad, and could make for a light meal with a double-portion. The starchy potatoes provide potassium while filling your belly, as do the eggs along with providing some protein (and cholesterol). The beets are the real powerhouse ingredient here, with tons of folates, fiber and antioxidants. Their tasty, sweet flavor adds nice contrast to the salty pickles in the dish, but add natural sugars and calories as well. Best of all, this salad is has only a light finish of olive oil and lemon juice for a flavorful, yet heart-healthy, dressing.
Eight maple leaves: We’re leaving the roots and tubers behind pretty soon, but in the meantime, these local foods can be done up in summery, light ways like this. With Greenmarket potatoes, beets and eggs, and some put-up fennel from last year, the ingredients here are light on your body as well as the earth.