Small luxuries for the New Year's Eve plate

Humble ingredients, like bright golden beets, can be just as celebratory as caviar and truffles for the New Year's Eve plate.
Humble ingredients, like bright golden beets, can be just as celebratory as caviar and truffles for the New Year's Eve plate. PHOTO: KARSTEN MORAN/THE NEW YORK TIMES
PHOTO: KARSTEN MORAN/THE NEW YORK TIMES
PHOTO: KARSTEN MORAN/THE NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - For eons, the high-end solution for New Year's Eve entertaining has been to offer an assortment of fabulous comestibles - caviar, smoked salmon, truffles. Like diamonds, these luxury goods never go out of style.

Oh, I suppose that's fine if you like that sort of thing. Don't get me wrong; I would consume the whole spread, were it offered. Twist my arm a little, I'll eat caviar-topped blini all night. But for us mortals, there are other celebratory choices just as captivating.

Consider beets, for instance. Yes, luscious, seductive, sensual, sweet, incredibly delicious beets. They come in colors such as (obviously) beet-red, pale pink, ivory and dark maroon. Then there is the curious kind with concentric fuchsia stripes inside, revealed when the beet is cut horizontally.

  • SMOKED TROUT & BEET SALAD WITH PINK CAVIAR

  • Ingredients

  • For the vinaigrette:
    1 small shallot, finely diced
    1 tsp Dijon mustard
    ½  tsp grated lemon zest
    2 Tbs rice vinegar
    1 Tbs sherry vinegar
    Salt and pepper
    3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

    For the salad:
    680g medium yellow beets
    2 tender celery stalks, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
    Salt and pepper
    Radicchio, Treviso or red endive leaves
    140g smoked trout fillets, or more if desired
    4 red radishes, very thinly sliced
    1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped (optional)
    57g trout roe, salmon roe or paddlefish caviar (about 3 tablespoons)
    2 Tbs snipped chives
    Dill sprigs, for garnish

  • Preparation

    1. Make the vinaigrette: Put shallots, mustard, lemon zest and vinegars in a small bowl and stir together. Season with salt and pepper. Leave for 5 minutes to macerate, then whisk in oil. Set aside.
    2. Prepare the salad: Scrub beets, then simmer in abundant salted water until tender when pierced with a skewer, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and cool slightly. When beets are still somewhat warm, rub off and discard skins. Trim any rough bits with a paring knife.
    3. Cut beets into half-moon slices, ¼-inch (6mm) thick, and place in a medium bowl. Add celery slices. Season with salt and pepper and dress with half the vinaigrette. Toss well with your hands to coat.
    4. Arrange salad leaves on individual plates, then distribute beet mixture. Break smoked trout fillets into rough 1-inch pieces and arrange over beets. Scatter a few radish slices over each salad. Add some chopped egg, if using. Sprinkle lightly with salt and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.
    5. Top each salad with a generous teaspoon of trout roe and sprinkle with chives and dill sprigs.

    Total time: 1 hour 
    Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Lately I am most enamored of yellow beets, even more so when they are a bright, intensely golden hue. I love to see them on display at the market, tied into bunches. Medium beets, about the size of tennis balls or a bit smaller, are perfect for cooking.

Depending on how much time I have, I cook them one of two ways: roasted or boiled. Roasting takes longer, at least an hour, if not more, concentrating flavor along the way. Boiling is simpler and takes half the time. Either method is fine. (You can also cook them buried in hot embers, but that is another story.) When the beets are fully cooked, the skins easily slip off, after cooling a bit. Just rub them away with your fingers to reveal the shiny innards, a rather pleasant task. 

Surely by now you are convinced that beets are delightfully festive and deserve your rapt attention. Let me explain how to turn them into a New Year's treat.

Slice the beets into half moons, and dress them with a somewhat vinegar-heavy vinaigrette. Gather some red winter salad leaves, such as radicchio, Treviso or red Belgian endive. Arrange torn leaves on plates and spoon the dressed beets over them, or keep the leaves whole and fill them like miniature seafaring vessels. A large leaf or two can be served as a first course; small leaves can be passed as hors d'oeuvres.

But we are not quite finished. Now add the fancy garnishes, suitably festive but more affordable than the typical trappings. Smoked trout fillets, rather than slices of smoked salmon, are scattered over the beets. And for the caviar substitute, add delicate pinky-orange trout roe, glistening like pearls, and used in abundance. It's not osetra, but who cares? They pop very nicely in the mouth. And the feeling is ever so extravagant.