If you’re one of the bazillion people who have resolved to eat healthier, lose weight, or save money, (or some combination thereof) you may think you’re in for twelve months of deprivation-central. Not so, friends. It is possible to eat tasty things on a budget and reduce your overall girth at the same time. I know—I’ve done it before. I’ve also gone off the wagon—hell, I spent all of December off the wagon—so I’m making a genuine effort to eat a bit healthier and save the really indulgent stuff for special occasions. I may have eaten pralines every day in New Orleans, but I can’t do that at home (mostly because I haven’t found really tasty pralines in Brooklyn. Thank Christ.)
So! Healthy food. Healthy food can be pretty and fancy looking and easy to make. It can be budget-friendly, make-ahead-friendly, and vegetarian-friendly. It can be filling enough & have just the right texture to be carnivore-friendly. And most of all, it can be delicious.
Not too long before Christmas, I saw a recipe for Beet & Sweet Potato Stacks on The Kitchn, a blog I check more often than Facebook. Since I’ve only recently warmed up to beets, I thought I’d give the recipe a shot. Plus, beets are cheap, and so are sweet potatoes and onions (score!), so if my experiment were a failure, it wouldn’t be a costly one. I also love making really simple things that look so good they make people think I spent an entire day in the kitchen preparing them.
I’ve made this recipe twice and I’ve only modified it slightly. You can make each of the “layers” of the stacks up to 3 days ahead, which is really helpful if you’re making these for a dinner party. If you decided to do everything at the same time, plan on needing about two hours from prep time through assembly.
Beet & Sweet Potato Stacks
Adapted from The Kitchn
Serves: 2 as an entrée; 4-6 as an appetizer
Tools you will need:
Aluminum foil, a peeler, a 9×13-baking dish or a cookie sheet, a plastic cutting board, a large skillet (NOT nonstick) and a good sharp knife. Also, you’ll want to wear an apron or an old T-shirt. (Beets, people. I do not have to tell you what they’re capable of.)
For the stacks:
2 large beets, without their greens
1 large uniformly shaped sweet potato (or 2 – the important thing is you need 1 pound)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
½ teaspoon of sweet paprika
1 dash cayenne pepper
½ cup walnuts, toasted (optional)
1 large onion
4 oz. baby spinach, rinsed and dried (you can use up to 6 oz.)
3 oz goat cheese (use a log or medallions, not the crumbles)
Vinaigrette recipe follows
Part I: Prep (Make day-of, or 1 – 3 days ahead)
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Scrub, rinse and dry the beets, then wrap each completely with aluminum foil (if you have the heavy duty kind, this is a great time to use it). Once the oven hits 400, put the beets in, and set your timer for 1 hour. Then leave the beets alone.
While they’re cooking, rinse & peel your sweet potato. (The Kitchn’s recipe says to slice the potato unpeeled, but I find the skin to be too tough). You’ll want to cut your slices about ¼ to 1/3 of an inch thick—but more importantly, make the slices even to ensure even cooking. Toss the slices with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the paprikas, cayenne and salt. Crack some pepper on them if you like.
Once the slices are coated, rinse all the spice off your hands and grab a cookie sheet. Line it with parchment or foil (if foil, spray on some non-stick spray). Arrange the slices on the sheet, as I have in the picture below, and put them in the oven (you can put the beets on the side—they’ll be fine). Allow potato slices to bake for 20 minutes. Then, take them out and turn them with a fork or spatula, and let them bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until you see brown spots and your home smells like sweet potato and paprika (which is magical in and of itself!). Once those babies are done, allow them to cool completely.
Once your oven timer goes off, remove the beets from the oven and let them cool for at least 30 minutes to an hour before unwrapping them. On a plastic cutting board, unwrap the beets and gently rub the skins off (careful! They can be slippery! ). By now you will look as if someone or something has bled all over your hands, so give them a rinse, and get your knife ready. (Here’s a tip for slicing beets, onions or any round vegetable: slice a little piece off one side and use it as a flat bottom. Now it won’t roll out of your hand.) You’ll want to cut your slices the same thickness as the sweet potatoes.
Refrigerate the sweet potatoes and beets in separate containers. You can stop here, or you can make the onions and spinach.
Get a large (10 – 12”) stainless steel or cast iron skillet and set it on the stove at medium high heat. Peel the outermost two layers of your onion and slice it (great time to use that tip!) into rings, about ¼ inch thick. Separate the rings completely. (Feel the burn yet? God, how my eyes hate this part.)
Place the onions in the pan once it has heated. Don’t add any oil or salt or stir vigorously. Just leave ‘em alone for at least a minute, and then give a quick stir. Let them cook dry for 5 minutes, and you’ll see they’ll start to brown.
Once they are brown, but not black or burning, add 2 teaspoons of oil and a generous pinch of salt to the pan. Stir, and let the onions continue to cook for another 5 minutes. They will shrink a lot while they’re getting nice and caramelized, and that’s what you want to see. (Pause! Smell the magic!) If the onions are sticking to the pan at any point during cooking, you can de-glaze the pan with some white wine, beer, or chicken stock—whatever you have handy (hell—cognac could work here too).
When the onions have about a minute left, add your spinach, and just let it sit on top of the onions for a minute before stirring. The leaves will wilt very quickly, and once they do you can turn the heat off and put the pan on another burner to cool. If you’re not making the stacks right away, you can refrigerate the spinach/onion mixture.
You can toast the walnuts a couple days ahead, but it’s best to toast them before you assemble the stacks. Freshly toasted walnuts smell like… okay, I don’t have the right description in my head right now, but they smell good. Really good. And they taste great, too. The basic rule of toasting nuts—whether you do it on the stove or in the oven—is that they’re ready to come off the heat once you can smell them. If you leave them too long, you’ll have to deal with the smell of burnt walnuts, which is most foul.
Part II: Assembly
If you’re working with previously cooked “layers”, take everything out of the fridge about an hour before you assemble (and take the goat cheese out, too). You’ll want everything to be at room temperature.
Grab a cookie sheet, line it with foil, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Time to build the stacks! Start with a beet round (this recipe provides enough of everything you’ll need for 6 stacks). Spread a dollop of goat cheese on each round.
Next, add a slice of sweet potato to each stack, gently but firmly planting it atop the goat cheese. Then add the onion/spinach mixture on top. Put just a small, teaspoon-sized amount of goat cheese on onion/spinach mixture, and start again with the beet slices. The goat cheese acts as the glue in this recipe, so don’t skimp. If you want to add more than the amount I suggest, knock yourself out.
You can put them in the oven as they are, or—and here’s something I should have done and didn’t do—wrap each stack around with aluminum foil (check out the pictures here). This will ensure the stacks stay upright.
Next, put the stacks in the oven and allow them to back 15 to 20 minutes until they are heated through. While they are baking, toast the walnuts (if you haven’t already) and make the vinaigrette:
1 ½ tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon honey
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of ground pepper
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl, or combine them all in a jar, cover securely, and shake. Set this aside for the moment.
When the stacks are done baking, gently remove the foil and hoist each stack onto a plate using a metal spatula. Top each stack with the toasted walnuts and drizzle the vinaigrette over each to finish. Voi-la!
Serving suggestions: If you want to serve the stacks as an entree, they pair well with creamy polenta (even better with creamy and cheesy polenta). Rice is always an option, but I would stay away from brown rice here. You’ve got a lot of fiber going on already.
Good to know: If you have leftovers, these fare well from an overnight stay in the fridge. I found the flavors to be more intense and better blended together after I reheated two stacks the next day. Also, for the Weight Watchers people (of which I am one), a serving of two stacks is 7 Points Plus. If you forgo the walnuts, you’re looking at 6 points. Not too shabby!