I think everyone who enjoys beets has had some incarnation of this wonderful beet salad. I personally like mine with blue cheese and walnuts, but I find the goat cheese version is much easier on palates unaccustomed to the strong taste of veined cheeses.
There two basic methods to preparing the beets for this salad - boiling or roasting. To boil them, trim off most of the greens and root (leave a little of bit of both though or else you'll find a lot of beet juice leaking out of your beets as you boil them) and throw the whole beets into a pot of boiling water until they are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not mushy. This may take anywhere from 20 minutes to just under an hour depending on how large your beets are (kind of like boiling potatoes for potato salad).
To roast them, trim off all of the stems and root and wrap each beet in some foil. Roast them at about 400F for 30-40 minutes or until they are fork tender but not mushy.
I prefer the roasting method because I find the beets stay more crisp throughout, as opposed to the outsides getting a bit soggy from boiling.
The beets are easiest to peel while they are still a bit warm. So using a paper towel (to protect your hands from the heat) and wearing gloves (if you don't want to stain your hands and nails), rub all the skin off the beets. If you find that the skin doesn't seem to want to come off, chances are that the beet is not well cooked yet. Throw it back into the water/oven for a little longer.
|The messy work of peeling beets. Love the red colour though! If I'd had the time, I would have saved the juice for cupcakes and icing :)|
While the beets are cooling a bit, prepare your cheese and nuts. I find it easier to cut and crumble goat cheese when it is a slightly frozen. So I usually cut the amount of goat cheese I want off the log (in the plastic and all!) and throw it into the freezer for 30 minutes or so. Afterward, it is really easy to cube or crumble the goat cheese in any manner you like.
Make your maple pecans by putting some chopped pecans into a hot, dry frying pan.
Toast them on medium heat until they start getting fragrant, then add a few spoonfuls of maple syrup and toss them around until they are seem sufficiently candied to your linking. This may take a few more pours from the syrup bottle if you want them glistening with sugar ;)
Top the beets with the nuts and cheese shortly before serving. And let your dinner mates marvel at this gorgeous late summer salad.
p.s. For a more sophisticated, hors d'oeuvres presentation, you could also slice the beets and goat cheese into coins and stack them atop each other with a sprinkling of candied nuts on top. If you are fancy that way :P