Grilled-Roasted Beet Sandwiches
With a large number of vegetarian constituents of The Meatwave, I'm always looking for new ways to deliver hearty, delicious eats for them that stand up to, or sometimes rival, the meaty offerings. I've grown very reliant on tofu over the past few years for this to a point where I feel like I've both overdone it and I'm not delivering the full promise of non-meat grilled dishes. Having dipped my toes into cooking beets earlier this spring, I came to realize there's a lot of untapped potential in these earthy and filling veggies that could reignite some creativity in my vegetarian recipes, and so when I was looking for a sandwich recently that would satisfy me for dinner, but not require a meat as the centerpiece, I looked to beets and they definitely did their job well.
I had a weekend of sandwiches on tap to use up a half sheet pan worth of focaccia I had made and needed to utilize while it was in its prime. There was some inspiration for this sandwich that came from a local eatery called Monuts who make some crazy delicious focaccia and use it in one of their sandwiches that features pickled beets, pickled hot peppers, goat cheese, bacon, and Italian salsa verde. A lot of those same components went into these sandwiches, but the overall outcome was pretty unique due to some important differences.
I've only grilled beets once before and used a method that wrapped them foil and then roasted, which led to relatively quick cooking and perfectly tender and delicious end results. Since I'm still new to beets, I figured I might as well stick to what I know works for a few times before venturing out into new cooking methods, so I started this recipe off with cleaned and trimmed beets that I had coated in oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I also threw in some sprigs of oregano into the foil packet, not because it's required here, but I just had some in fridge that was starting to go bad so wanted to put it to use rather than toss it.
I'm a fan of spicy, and the chilies in the Monuts sandwich definitely attract my attention, so I made them part of mine as well. Since I had a fire going already, I opted to fire roast a few Fresno chiles until they were blackened all over. I then put them in a small bowl, covered, and let them rest.
Once the chiles were cleared form the grill, I placed the packet of beets on and situated it close to, but not directly over, the coals of a two-zone fire. I then closed the grill and let them roast. I knew from my last go at beets that large ones like these took around 30 minutes to become tender throughout, so at that time mark I began testing their doneness by inserting a paring knife into the center of the beets and seeing it there was any resistance. There wasn't, so I removed the packet and let it sit until cool enough to handle.
By now the chiles were totally cooled down, so went forth with removing the blackened skins, which was easier on these Fresnos than most of chiles. Next I stemmed and deseed the peppers before cutting them into thin strip for use in the sandwiches.
Once the beets were at a temperature safe for handling, I peeled off their skins as well and then cut them into 1/2-inch thick slices. One of a few reasons I never really wanted to cook beets before is because of the way they can stain everything, so I took an extra precaution against discoloring my cutting board by putting down some parchment, which also made clean-up a breeze.
I then turned to the final sandwich component—the Italian salsa verde. If you haven't tried this stuff, you're in for a treat. It looks a bit like pesto, but with parsley as the base and capers, vinegar, and anchovies doing the flavoring work, it has a rather unexpected briny, savory, and tangy taste. I realized that the anchovies voided this as meatless dish, but if I were making it for my vegetarian friends, I would have just swapped in some mushroom seasoning or soy sauce instead to provide the savory element the fish provides.
To assemble the sandwiches, I began by slathering a layer of soft goat cheese along the bottom piece of the focaccia. I then sparingly added on the Fresno chilies, followed by a layer of arugula, beet slices, and a generous serving of the salsa verde.
When considering things that would be unique, hearty, and really deliver on the creativity that's key to The Meatwave after all of these years, these sandwiches definitely fit the bill. There's a lot going on here, and at times I was torn between whether it was a bit too challenging on the palate, or really exciting. The arugula, beet, and goat cheese combo all tasted at home together with the earthy beets a great match for the tangy cheese and peppery greens. The Italian salsa verde was complex and its brininess added a lot of flavor to an already hopping party. My love for heat that attracted me to using Fresno chiles was where I thought things might be a tad overboard as they created intense pockets of heat whenever you hit one—I think some heat is good, but a milder chili like a jalapeño or poblano could be a better fit. One thing about these sandwiches was very certain though, they proved that I need to be looking at beets more often, and once The Meatwave can finally get roaring again, be prepared to see more delicious things made from them.
Grilled-Roasted Beet Sandwiches
- Yield 4 servings
- Prep 20 Minutes
- Inactive 30 Minutes
- Cook 50 Minutes
- Total 1 Hour 40 Minutes
- For the Italian Salsa Verde
- 1 1/2 cups packed, roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup capers, drained
- 3 anchovy fillets
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated zest from 1 lemon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Beets
- 2 pounds beets, unpeeled, greens stems removed, scrubbed clean
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the Sandwiches
- 3 Fresno chiles
- 6 oz spreadable goat cheese
- 4 sandwich-sized pieces of focaccia, halved horizontally
- 2 large handfuls arugula (about 1oz)
- To make the Italian salsa verde: Place parsley, olive oil, capers, anchovies, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and lemon zest in work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until parsley is finely chopped, about 10 1-second pulses, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as necessary. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
- To make the beets: Toss beats with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer beets to the center of an 18x18" piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. Fold foil over and crimp edges shut.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Prior to cooking the beets, place chiles on hot side of grill and cook, turning occasionally, until completely charred all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer chiles to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Place foil-wrapped beets near, bu not directly over, the fire. Cover and cook until a paring knife can be interested into center of beets with no resistance, about 45 minutes. Remove foil wrapped beets from grill and let rest until cool enough to handle. Open foil, peel off skins from beets, and cut beets into 1/2-inch thick slices.
- To assemble the sandwiches: Remove charred skins from peppers, deseed, and cut into thin strips. Spread a layer of goat across the 4 bottom halves of focaccia. Add pepper slices, to taste, on top of goat cheese followed by arugula, beet slices, and salsa verde. Top each sandwich with remaining focaccia slices and serve immediately.