Garlicky Beet Salad with Walnuts and Dates

There's no shortage of little bites, known as zakuski, at Russian parties. The idea is to awaken your palate, to make you hungry for the meal to come. One of my favorites is this intensely garlicky beet salad. The original concept is rather simple: grated beets, lots of garlic, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. I'm sure there are variations on a theme, but you get the idea. The garlic is potent, but not abrasive, and I mellowed it out a bit by adding some lemon juice and zest, dates, and chopped walnuts. I also blended sour cream with mayonnaise for a more luxurious feel.
  • Yield: Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish
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2 1/2 pounds beets, preferably organic

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

7 large garlic cloves, mashed into a paste

6 medjool dates, chopped

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic

Juice of 1 lemon


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with the rack in the middle. Trim and halve the beets lengthwise, and place in a 13-by-9-inch roasting pan. Fill with enough water so it comes halfway up the sides, cover the top tightly with foil and roast the beets for 30 to 40 minutes (depending on beets' size), until fork-tender. Remove from the oven, let cool, and slip the skins off. Using the coarsest setting on the food processor or the hand grater, shred the beets. In a large bowl, toss the beets with the remaining ingredients and mix until well-combined. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly, if needed. Serve immediately or refrigerate.