I love listening to Leonard Cohen croon about Suzanne’s half-crazy bohemian beauty. “She’ll feed you tea and oranges that come all the way from china,” he sang. Every time I hear the song, I see them eating mandarin orange slices together and drinking oolong tea. Did she wrap the oranges and her teapot in a scarf and take him down to her place near the river, sitting on a blanket, peeling the skins with her delicate white fingers as she fed the oranges to him one by one?
I never did much like mandarin oranges though. They remind me too much of the can they come in. Instead, I look for clementines or tangerines, but always seem to miss their window — or, if I’m lucky enough to take them home, seldom remember to eat them before they shrivel up and harden.
With this recipe, canned mandarins have found a place in my kitchen, paired with my favorite vegetable — beets, canonized by Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume as “the most intense of the vegetables,” a vegetable with the fire of passion. Eating beets and oranges is like merging earth and sky — the peculiar, earth-bound beetroot and the lovable, sun-drenched orange effortlessly fall for each other somewhere in between.
I made this side dish for a dinner party this weekend, creatively and on the fly, because I had long, narrow beets in the fridge from B’s parents’ garden — curiously the size of mandarin oranges, I thought. But how could I make it special? I was reminded of the book I’ve been reading lately — The Book of Salt.
Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein lived together in Paris during the heady days of American expatriatism. To Stein, Toklas was everything beyond mere bedfellow — typist, confidant, hostess, and extraordinary cook. The Book of Salt peers into their life, telling us that Miss Toklas is the kind of cook who “puts absinthe in her salad dressing and rose petals in her vinegar.”
The idea of dressing a salad with a French liqueur demanded my attention, especially since I’d heard this somewhere before. In Lunch in Paris, the young female author makes something similar for a picnic for her boyfriend — Potato and Green Bean Salad with Pastis Vinaigrette.
So back to my kitchen, I tossed the roasted beets with mandarin orange slices and a couple splashes of pastis, which added a slight note of licorice to an incredibly agreeable dish. At the end of the party, not a bite of the happy pair remained.
Cold Roasted Beet Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Pastis
Serves 10 as a side dish at a party
- 2 bundles of beets
- 2-ish large cans of mandarin oranges (eyeball an even ratio of beet to orange)
- Something sweet (like agave, sugar, or honey)
- Canola oil and olive oil
Peel and cut the beets into pieces the size of mandarin oranges. Save the greens for later.
Coat the beets with canola oil, kosher salt, and a few turns of something sweet. Roast in a 375-degree oven 35 minutes or until lightly brown, turning once halfway through. Cool.
Drain the mandarin oranges and add to a bowl with the beets, a twist of olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and two splashes of Pastis french liqueur. Add herbs if you have them, like chives and purple basil, which I have here. Serve at room temperature.