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Beet and fennel salad

Beet and fennel salad
Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Cooking is a creative endeavor — an art form all its own. Through the alchemy of the kitchen, heat and good intentions transform vegetables, meat and grains into nourishment for body and soul. That nourishment can then be used to fuel other creative endeavors. There's nothing like a delicious home-cooked meal to help a person dig into a writing, art, dance or film project.

That's the philosophy behind a new cookbook released by a writer's retreat for women on Whidbey Island in Washington state called Hedgebrook. Each year, 1,500 writers vie for one of 40 spots available at the nonprofit retreat. Once there, they are given a cottage in the woods, the perfect place to write. The only requirement is that they come to the farmhouse kitchen every evening at 5:30 to eat a meal that Hedgebrook chefs Denise Barr and Julie Rosten have worked all afternoon to prepare.

Those recipes, including one for lavender ice cream that is a favorite of Hedgebrook regular Gloria Steinem, have been published for the first time in "Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality," which was released this fall as part of the retreat's 25th anniversary. The cookbook can be found on Amazon as well as on the retreat's website, http://www.hedgebrook.org.

"Food is so central to the experience at Hedgebrook because you are what you eat and you write what you are — who you are," Hedgebrook Executive Director Amy Wheeler said.

With that advice in mind, I chose two dishes that appealed to my need to feel clean and clear to better write the novel I've been plugging away at (very slowly) for the last few months: Carrot ginger orange soup and the beet and fennel salad. Dishes that I decided to try later included Vietnamese noodle salad bowls with shrimp, Indian chicken stew, and braised Brussels sprouts with pancetta.

The beet and fennel salad turned out to be a breeze and was substantial enough to serve as a satisfying main course alongside the soup. Be sure to start boiling your beets in advance, since they can take a lot longer than the 30 minutes called for to become soft enough to peel and eat. The recipe calls for salad greens or spinach, but I used kale that I massaged for about five minutes with a little olive oil. The added crunch complemented the fennel nicely.

The lemon vinaigrette that dresses the salad was tangy, with garlic, shallots and lemon zest combining to create depth of flavor. Extra dressing can be saved for up to three days for quick lunchtime salads.

The carrot ginger orange soup was richly flavored, with coriander and cumin adding a complex Indian kick. I used the orange juice sparingly, since I didn't want the final product to be too sweet.

This turned out to be important, since I found that the soup required quite a bit of thinning to reach the consistency I desired. Vegetable stock serves as the base for the soup and can be used to thin along with extra orange juice. If you're feeling adventurous, you can use some butter or coconut milk. I got a little wild and tried both with the leftover soup. The coconut milk added a lovely creaminess.

The recipe portions were generous, and both dishes held up nicely as tasty leftovers for the following day. Maybe I was imagining it, but I think I actually did write better after eating them.


Total time: 50 minutes | Serves 6 to 8

Lemon vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (1 to 2 lemons)
  • 5 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Step 1In a medium bowl, whisk together the shallots, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, agave syrup, salt and pepper, then slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. (You can also use a small food processor to make this dressing by putting all ingredients into the processor and blending until emulsifed.) This makes a generous cup of of salad dressing, which will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, up to 3 days.


  • 5 to 6 beets
  • 12 cups fresh salad greens or spinach, or as desired
  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • Lemon vinaigrette

Step 1Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the walnuts in a shallow baking pan until fragrant and golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Step 2Place the unpeeled beets in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook until the beets can easily be pierced through with a fork, about 30 minutes. Set the beets aside until cool enough to handle, then peel and slice into one-fourth-inch thick rounds. Place the beets in a small bowl (separate bowls if using different colors to keep the colors from bleeding), and toss with vinaigrette to coat.

Step 3Place the greens on individual plates or on a large shallow serving bowl. Arrange the sliced beets on top of the salad greens. Sprinkle the fennel and red onion slices on top of the beets, then drizzle over the vinaigrette before serving.

Each of 8 servings:
Calories 328; Protein 4 grams; Carbohydrates 18 grams; Fiber 5 grams; Fat 29 grams; Saturated fat 4 grams; Cholesterol 0; Sugar 5 grams; Sodium 229 mg
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