I met Paula Disbrowe on New Year’s Eve three years ago. She’s tall and very pretty, with long legs, high cheekbones and a classic sense of style. That night, she was dressed like a lady, but cussed like a sailor, a combination I find irresistable. It was a while before we saw each other again, but when we met for lunch and finally shared confidences over a bottle of bitingly cold, steely white wine, our conversation felt easy and effortless, the beginnings of a friendship that has always felt both familiar and exciting. Aside from being one of the best storytellers I know, she’s courageous and not afraid of making bold, epic decisions. She has cooked at a chateau in France, covered the food beat in New York city, written award-winning cookbooks, and traveled far and wide, but my favorite story is about the time she came back to New York from an assignment in Texas, packed up everything she owned and moved out to Rio Frio to run a gourmet fitness ranch as the cowgirl chef. Paula chronicled this experience in Cowgirl Cuisine, a cookbook I’ve read cover to cover. A love letter to her years in West Texas, the book is a fantastic read, and the recipes inside are exactly what you want to eat. Paula’s cooking is always perfect–the food she cooks is big-hearted and fun, delicious and interesting, and the best part is that every dish tells the story of a life lived large.
Ruby Salad with Crumbled Feta and Spicy Pepitas
from Cowgirl Cuisine, by Paula Disbrowe
to prepare beets:
1 bunch beets, trimmed and scrubbed
2-3 fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs or 3 fresh bay leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
for the vinaigrette:
1 Tbs dijon mustard
2 Tbs sherry wine vinegar
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper
1/4 c olive oil
for the salad:
4 c very thinly sliced red cabbage
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
4 c mixed baby greens (sometimes I just increase the red cabbage and leave this out, sometimes I add thinly sliced raddichio)
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
(I also add chopped cilantro)
1 c spicy pepitas (recipe follows)
To roast the beets, preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil. Put the beets, herbs, salt, and a drizzle of oil in the center. Toss the beets to coat. Fold the foil in a loose-fitting but tightly sealed packet around the beets. Roast the packet on the baking sheet until the beets are tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let the beets cool completely in the foil. When cool, use a paring knife to peel and slice he beets into wedges (beets can be roasted up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated).
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, 1/4 tsp salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil.
To assemble the salad, combine the cabbage and onion in a medium bowl and set aside. Up to an hour before serving, add the beet wedges to the cabbage and onion and gently toss with half the vinaigrette.
Just before serving, add the baby greens, half of the feta, and half of the pepitas; toss with the remaining vinaigrette. Arrange on a big serving platter and garnish with the remaining feta and pepitas.
spicy pepitas: toss 6 oz pepitas (pumpkin seeds) with 1 tsp oil, 1 tsp chile powder, and 3/4 tsp salt. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 375 until golden and fragrant, 6-8 minutes (you’ll hear them popping). Cool completely on the baking sheet. Can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container.