We have noted elsewhere that the range of vegetables available to the colonists of New France was narrow, but happily enough beets fell within it. They grew just about everywhere despite the cold climate and were comparatively easy to store through the winter. The colony also imported capers preserved in vinegar as well as olive oil from the French Mediterranean, so this simple and superb salad became a staple. It may have been born of scarcity but this salad, earthy form beet and tangy from caper, deserves plenty of attention in our own glutted age.
-as many peeled and chopped cooked beets as you need
-capers to taste
-a little of their brine
-a tithe of olive oil (but see the Notes)
-minced parsley (inauthentic and optional but nice)
-salt and pepper
Toss everything together.
- Even during the eighteenth century, olive oil would have been relatively scarce and expensive to most people beneath the pinnacle of the social heap in New France, and the salad is perfectly good without it.
- With beets, especially salad beets, the smaller the better. Roasting them yields the best flavor, but can take as long as an hour drizzled with oil and tented with foil in a 400 oven. They also always seem to come out impossible to peel. Boiling them takes half the time, peeling is not so bad, but the flavor, while fine, is a bit blander.
- Speaking of bland, canned beets will work for this salad in a pinch; drain them ruthlessly and do not oversalt them. Weeknights can be tough on a busy cook, and canned beets are better than none, at least once in a while, so try not to be a snob. The whole ones seem to have more flavor and better texture than their presliced counterparts; they also are smaller.