When I was a teenager in Mexico, I spent lots of time with my maternal grandparents. That included traveling with them to their "casa de campo", which was up in the hills of Pachuca, in a little town called Mineral del Chico. Getting to that house implied an 8-hour drive from Monterrey, and those trips always included a stop to visit one of my Grandfather's colleagues.
You see, my grandfather Rodolfo was a celebrated medical doctor and the only times he went away he managed to arrange meetings to compare notes with fellow doctors. And that's how we came to be in the home of Dr. Carranco and his eccentric wife Doña Maricela in the city of Pachuca, Hidalgo.
It was December, and we were spending Christmas up at the cottage, but after that long drive we did our customary stop at the Carranco household. Not surprisingly, there was Christmas dinner, complete with Doña Maricela's version of Ensalada de Nochebuena.
I don't remember that whole meal, but I do remember the salad. It was the first time I had it and it was memorable because it was horrible. Did I mention Doña Maricela was eccentric? Well, she was also a bad cook, but what she lacked in talent in the kitchen she made up with a love of people and welcoming warmth for her guests.
That salad turned me off beets for many years, but thankfully, I am over that aversion and today I must say they are a favorite vegetable of mine.
This salad is traditionally served for Christmas Eve dinner in Mexico, and it is a welcome and fresh addition to the rich turkey dinners with all the trimmings. The colors on the salad platter are vibrant and rich, and the combination of sweet beets, crunchy jícamas, sweet oranges, tangy pineapples and crunchy apples on a bed of lettuce make a perfect balance with the red onion and meaty pecans. The beautifully pink creamy dressing ties it all together perfectly.
You don't have to serve this salad on Christmas Eve..... why not make it for New Year's Eve? Your guests will love it!
Ensalada de Noche Buena
1 small green leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
6 small beets, trimmed
4 navel oranges, washed well
2 Royal Gala apples, washed well
1 small jicama, peeled
¼ pineapple, cored and peeled
½ small red onion
½ cup toasted pecans
½ cup cilantro leaves
1 cup crema
6 Tbsp orange juice (from oranges segmented)
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp orange zest
1 ½ tsp kosher salt, or to taste
2 slices beet (saved from salad beets)
Trim beets and wrap in tin foil. Place on a tray and bake in a 450°F oven for about 30 minutes, or until soft. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes. Wearing gloves, peel beets. Slice beets thinly and reserve.
While beets are roasting, work on the prep. Zest one orange. Reserve zest.
Cut tops and bottoms of oranges and then cut off skin, removing white pith. Working over a bowl, cut between the membranes to remove segments. When all segments are done, squeeze the remaining orange membranes to remove most juice. Reserve segments. Divide orange juice, reserving 6 Tbsp for dressing, and the rest to add to sliced apples.
Cut apples in half, remove seeds and slice thinly. Immediately place them in a small bowl and toss with leftover orange juice from segmenting oranges.
Peel jicama, cut in half, and then cut into thin slices. Cut pineapple into thin slices. Cut red onion into very thin slices.
To prepare salad dressing, combine crema, orange juice and zest, white wine vinegar and salt. Stir to make sure salt is completely dissolved. Add a couple of slices of cooled roasted beet to dressing and stir gently to allow the beets to color the crema. Do this for about 5 minutes - the longer you do this, the more color you will get.
When ready to serve, arrange lettuce on the bottom of a shallow platter. Arrange beets, jicama, pineapple, apple, orange segments and red onions decoratively over lettuce. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with toasted pecans and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.
This recipe was first published at www.thelatinkitchen.com