Those of you who follow my recipes will know that I am not afraid of out-there, even taboo flavor palettes, but esteemed plant-based food guru Crescent Dragonwagon went somewhere that surprised even me: vanilla bean in a salad. “What? Hang on,” I thought, “vanilla beans would be kind of nauseating in a savory context, surely.”
While looking for a unique way to season beets in a salad I was planning, I came across a recipe in The Passionate Vegetarian where she made a beet salad with vanilla bean as the key ingredient. I just happened to have a single vanilla bean left from my trip down to Quintana Roo this past summer, but I was worried that a vanilla bean flavor mixed with a vinaigrette flavor would be too weird. I finally decided to try it. I had never had any recent to doubt the all-knowing Dragonwagon so, why not?
I knew that I would have celery hearts in my beet salad because I feel there’s a natural affinity between them. The addition of quinoa, the cousin of the beet, adds healthy calcium, protein and b vitamins; it’s also what prompted me to classify this salad as a tabbouleh. Although bulgar wheat is the grain used in the traditional version, it seems like tabbouleh is an ever-widening circle of grain and green salad surprises. In this incarnation, the flat-leaf parsley teams up with carrots and parsnips— all three are of the Queen Anne’s Lace family— and the tomato is replaced by the beets. The whole thing is fortified with tender baby chard, tatsoi, arugula and spinach leaves from Organic Girl. If I’d had the beet greens, I’d have used them as well. The strong, bright acidity of lemon puts a polish on the sometimes sharp notes of the beet flavor. Think of it as putting a cap on the earthiness. A little champagne vinegar brings a nice complementary zing.
When it came to cooking the quinoa, I used a little culinary lavender because we did our final harvest of the perennial garden. If you don’t have culinary lavender, any of the long-cooking herbs such as thyme, rosemary or sage could have been used here.
I waited to toss the quinoa and the greens till the very last minute so as not to let the greens get too wilty. I arranged the beet slices on top and was in love with the colors orange and green and gold in stark contrast to the deep blood color of the beets. Perfection. Autumn tabbouleh, and every flavor in perfect balance— oh how the church potluck crowd raved— hooray! Crescent Dragonwagon, I swear I will never doubt you again!
Here’s that recipe— go ahead and try it y’allselves!