Spinach and Watercress Salad with Pomelos and Roasted Beets & Pan-Fried Eggplant

Enough about raw meat…  I’ve been properly shamed by my admissions of popping grease fears and pitiful meat-cooking techniques.  On to something that I do do well: vegetables.

Beet Stems
Beet stems and leaves.

These beautiful beets were part of the Farmers’ Market haul from Saturday morning, as was the rest of our meal on Tuesday night.  I decided to do a twist on a typical Southern meal, using very Southern ingredients while keeping the meal fresh, contemporary and healthy (sorry, Miz Deen).

Fresh Beets
Fresh beets.

First up was roasting the beets for the salad.  I chopped off the stems and leaves, saving those for a later meal (you can eat beet greens, just like you’d eat any other greens…collard, mustard, kale, etc.).  I trimmed some of the rougher spots off the beets, roughly chopped them and tossed them with some olive oil and koshering salt.

I love my knife.

I threw the beets onto a cookie sheet and into a 375 oven for 45 minutes. I covered the beets with a layer of tin foil, but removed it for the last five minutes of cooking. Some people/recipes may tell you to put water into the pan while you’re roasting the beets. I disagree and feel that the beets do much better on their own, like any other root vegetable (sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, etc.).

Unroasted Beets
Ready to rock.

While the beets are roasting, you are free to tend to other tasks around the kitchen.  For me, this meant cleaning and prepping the spinach and watercress for the salad, making the vinaigrette, slicing and prepping the eggplant and creating a little workstation for the flour/egg/cornmeal bath that awaited the eggplant later on.

Fresh watercress.

First things first: cleaning and prepping the spinach and watercress.  Spinach, especially, tends to be very sandy and loamy and requires a lot of washing.  The watercress, thankfully, requires just a quick rinse.

Oranges, prepare to be juiced.

Balsamic vinaigrette is one of my favorite things to make, since there are endless permutations and variations and methods of creating it.  Tuesday’s vinaigrette was my favorite recipe yet and was composed — on the fly — of the following ingredients:

  • juice of half an orange (above)
  • 2 oz. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 oz. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • pinch of koshering salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper

Most people prefer a 2:1 (or, worse, 3:1) ratio of olive oil to vinegar, but I prefer the sharpness and tang of a more evenly-matched ratio (1.5:1).  Make sure to adjust for your personal preferences.

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette
Handy cruet with recipes on the side.

Once the salad was prepped and ready to go (by the way, there are no pictures, but just take that pomelo, slice the rind off with a sharp knife and cut it into chunks along the membranes…don’t bother with peeling it, since it will take you FOREVER), I started prepping the eggplant.

There is the traditional “Italian” way to pan-fry eggplant, after dredging it in breadcrumbs.  And then there’s the Southern way, which uses cornmeal.  Slice your eggplant into half-inch thick slices, and walk it down the line:

  • Dredge it in flour
  • Give it an egg bath (one egg and a little bit of water, whipped together)
  • Coat it in cornmeal
  • Lay the slices in a pan with hot oil (I use canola), two at a time

You’ll need to turn the slices only once, cooking for about three to five minutes per side, depending on thickness.  After each batch is finished, let them drain on a plate with some paper towels to absorb any excess oil.  Your eggplant will have a delicious, crispy exterior and a melty, creamy interior that’s a miraculous combination  of textures.

When everything was finished, I plated the eggplant with just a little smidge of the salad for garnish, while the rest of the salad went into wooden bowls:

Spinach and Watercress Salad with Pomelos and Roasted Beets
Finished salad.

The roasted beets are sweet and earthy, perfectly paired with the crisp, almost bitter taste of the watercress and the tangy, full-bodied vinaigrette.

And last, but not least, the eggplant:

Pan-Fried Eggplant

OG Southern-style, cornmeal-battered and pan-fried.  You may be saying to yourself: But, K, that’s not exactly “healthy.”  Well, it’s certainly healthier than deep-frying it or using an entire stick of butter.  Plus, let’s count all of the fruits and vegetables that have gone into this meal…  Beets, spinach, watercress, eggplant and pomelo.  I think that a little pan-frying won’t hurt anyone, especially in the presence of all that wonderful, fresh food.

Happy eating!