Strawberry Beet Salad With Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing Is a Must This Season

May 19, 2021 Updated: May 19, 2021

Let me start by saying that I’m not a beet-lover. At all. I don’t know what came over me when I first started thinking about this salad, but it probably had something to do with it being midwinter in New York, when the most color you get to enjoy is blue sky, if you’re lucky, and trash peeking out of a graying snowbank, if you’re not. Anyway, color: I’ve been hungry for it, and now that berries and herbs are finally coming into season, I can satisfy those cravings.

This bougainvillea-pink salad is the perfect way to do so. You’ll start, yes, with beets, roasted until tender using a method inspired by “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” wherein you bake them with a good splash of water so they steam and roast simultaneously, giving you the concentrated sweetness of roasted beets with the tender meatiness of boiled beets. Peel and slice into fat half-moons, then, while they’re still warm, toss with a pinch of sugar and salt and a drizzle of vinegar. Strawberries, sort of meaty in their own way, get a similar treatment.

Beets and poppy seeds are a classic combination, as are beets and sour cream (which I swapped here for buttery creme fraiche), as are strawberries and any sort of cream. And poppy seeds, amusingly crunchy, remind me a bit of strawberry seeds. So, the dressing felt fated: a creamy, lemony poppy seed dressing with enough mustard and shalloty zip to keep things decidedly out of dessert territory.

I love the way this wacky salad sits on a plate (over a peppery tuft of arugula, if you like), all swoops and angles, with magenta beet juice staining the strawberries neon and making tie-dye in the dressing. It’s as pleasing to look at as it is to eat—even if you’re not a beet-lover.

Beet and Strawberry Salad With Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

Serves 4

  • 1 pound small red beets (about 3 tennis-ball-sized)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (see note for vegan option)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, divided
  • Small handful fresh soft herb leaves and tender stems, such as parsley, cilantro, dill, fennel fronds, basil, and/or mint
  • A few handfuls baby arugula (optional), for serving

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425 F.

Scrub the beets. Place in a 1-quart baking dish or round cake pan and add 1/2 cup water; the beets should be sitting in a shallow puddle. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast until tender and a paring knife slides through easily, about 1 hour. If you start to smell a burning-sugar smell while they roast, carefully peel back the foil, add more water, reseal the foil, and return to the oven. Meanwhile, make the dressing.

Prepare the following, placing in a jar or small bowl as you prepare them: Finely chop the shallot (about 1/4 cup). Finely grate the zest of the lemon, then juice it (about 3 tablespoons juice). Add 1/2 teaspoon of the granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Stir to combine and set aside to macerate for 10 minutes.

Add creme fraiche, extra-virgin olive oil, poppy seeds, Dijon mustard, and a few grinds black pepper. Stir to combine.

Trim the stems from the strawberries, then slice crosswise into rounds about 1/3-inch thick. Transfer to a medium bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon of the granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon of the white wine vinegar. Stir well to combine.

When the beets are ready, set aside to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, use a paper towel to rub the skins off. Trim and halve the beets, then cut into half-moon slices about 1/3-inch thick. Transfer to a second medium bowl, add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar. Stir well to combine.

Let the strawberries and beets sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the strawberries to the bowl with the beets and gently stir to combine.

To assemble, coarsely chop a small handful of herbs until you have about 1/3 cup. Scatter a few handfuls of arugula, if using, onto individual plates or a large platter. Top with the beet and strawberry salad. Spoon the dressing generously over the top, then sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

The dressing may be made up to three days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. The beet-strawberry salad can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container; let come to room temperature before serving.

For a vegan option, a plant-based mayonnaise may be used in place of the creme fraiche.

Caroline Lange is a writer for TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to editorial@thekitchn.com. Copyright 2021 Apartment Therapy. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.