This roasted beet and fennel salad is the salad for non-salad people. For one, it doesn’t feel like a salad (it’s one of those non-traditional, lettuce-free salads). It’s also packed with fun flavors and textures that are often missing from salads (hi, walnut bread crumbs and juicy oranges!).
It’s light and refreshing and the perfect meal or side dish for warmer weather. At the same time, since the veggies are roasted instead of raw, it’s heartier and more satisfying than your standard salad. It’s great as a side dish, but thanks to the addition of chickpeas and avocados, it also works as lunch or dinner.
If you’re looking for another fabulous not-so-average salad, this Vegan Broccoli Salad is a must-try!
Why you’ll love this salad
Wholesome. This salad is made with several nutritional superstars: fennel (antioxidants, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory compounds), walnuts (omega-3 fatty acids), chickpeas (protein, fiber, and iron), and beets (potassium, iron, fiber, nitrates, antioxidants!).
A salad for non-salad people. While I enjoy traditional lettuce salads, a good salad doesn’t need lettuce! If you’re a salad skeptic, I promise this dish will make you enjoy salads. Or, at least this salad.
Texture heaven. In my Youtube video on how to build a great salad, I mention that one of the best ways to create salads you’ll love is by introducing textural variety. Here, we have crispy textures from the walnut breadcrumbs, creaminess from the avocado chunks, a slight chewiness from the roasted beets and chickpeas, juiciness from the orange pieces, and a slight crunchy crispness from the roasted fennel.
PS: if it’s summer when you’re reading this, one of my favorite texture-heavy recipes to make is this crispy zucchini and corn casserole!
Flavor-packed. If I’m going to share a salad recipe, you better believe it’s a salad brimming with flavor. Here we have slightly earthy yet sweet beets paired with anise-flavored fennel and earthy walnuts, which are all a natural match made in heaven. The tangy citrus vinaigrette makes everything pop, and the fresh herbs (parsley, dill, and fennel fronds) bring a bright herbaceousness.
A mostly “make ahead salad.” The citrus vinaigrette can be made several days in advance and stored in the fridge. Roasted beets can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. And the walnut breadcrumbs can be stored in a jar in the pantry for several weeks. The fennel can also be roasted a couple days in advance and reheated later (in the oven on a baking tray), but I find it’s best the day of roasting.
How to make this salad (step by step photos)
Trim most of the stalks and greens off of the beets, leaving about 2 inches of stalks. Do not cut the skinny tails off. Use the beet greens for another use or add to this recipe (see the “how to use up beet greens” section below).
Add the beets to a baking dish or Dutch oven. Very lightly rub the beets with olive oil and pour water into the pan to go ¼-inch (.6 cm) up the sides.
Cover the pan with its lid or foil and roast at 425°F/218°C until fork tender (time dependent on size of beets; see recipe card for time ranges).
Slice the fennel stalks (reserve stalks for veggie broth or to simmer in soups) and set aside the wispy fronds for the salad.
Cut each fennel bulb into half, vertically; then slice horizontally into rings, about 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick (0.8-1.3 cm).
Transfer fennel to a rimmed sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt/pepper. Roast until tender and browned on edges.
Make the walnut bread crumbs. Add the olive oil and finely chopped walnuts to a frying pan. Cook for 90 seconds.
Add the panko bread crumbs and cook 2 minutes. Stir continuously to prevent burning.
Add the Aleppo pepper and flaky salt and briefly cook. Transfer to a plate, spread out, and allow to cool.
Combine the roasted beets, fennel, and chickpeas in a large bowl.
Add the walnut bread crumbs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and chopped parsley, dill, and fennel fronds. Season with sea salt and pepper.
Toss everything to combine.
Add the avocado chunks and chopped oranges (I used cara cara oranges). Gently toss to combine.
Transfer the beet and fennel salad to plates and pour some vinaigrette on each salad just before serving.
How to use up beet greens
If your beets come with greens that look decent, don’t toss them! Especially in late spring and early summer during their first season, beets have delicate greens that are delicious! I learned this from the fabulous Six Seasons cookbook by Joshua McFadden.
If you like the sound of this salad, you will love the this vegetable-forward cookbook! It’s has plenty of vegan-friendly options and will inspire you to eat more veggies!
Here’s what I like to do with beet greens. Clip them off the beet stalks and wash them (they’re very dirty). Pat dry or use a salad spinner. Then roll up the leaves and slice them thinly into ribbons (like a chiffonade for basil).
Heat up a frying pan over medium heat with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Add the beet greens and sauté for just 3 to 4 minutes, until wilted but not soggy. Season very lightly with salt and pepper. Simple but tasty!
You can add the beet greens to this salad if you like, or serve as a side dish with another meal.
Tips for making this roasted beet and fennel salad
Don’t slice off the beet tails before roasting. Keeping them intact helps the beets stay juicy inside.
Traditional red beets bleed quite a bit and will stain the rest of the salad ingredients pink. I learned that after making this salad for the first time. There is nothing wrong with this and it doesn’t affect the taste, but as a food photographer, it was impossible to photograph lol (hence, the finished photos use golden beets).
To make the process of slicing and cooking red beets less messy, lightly grease your cutting board and hands with olive oil or a neutral-flavored oil. For why this works, check out this quick video from Nik Sharma, author of The Flavor Equation (another fantastic cookbook). In any event, beet stains will come out of cutting boards easily and will fade from your fingers in a few hours.
Tip: Roast an extra beet and then you can easily make this gorgeous, wholesome Beet Hummus!
Walnut Bread Crumbs
Don’t skip the walnut bread crumbs! It’s what takes this salad from great to fantastics. Plus, they’re quite simple to make. You just need walnuts (finely chopped), panko bread crumbs, Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), and flaky/coarse salt.
You’ll need to finely chop the walnuts – about the size of bread crumbs. This can be done by pulsing them in a food processor (faster but more dishes) or with a knife (slower but fewer dishes).
Keep an eye on the walnuts and stir frequently while cooking them to prevent burning. Once you add the panko, you’ll want to stir almost continuously.
PS: Walnuts are a versatile, heart-healthy ingredient I recommend keeping on hand! Use them in salads like this, in baked goods like these outrageously good vegan banana muffins, or to make vegan bolognese meatier.
If you are planning to keep leftovers, assemble the amount you wish to eat now. Then store the components separately. This will preserve the best texture. Storage instructions can be found in the “frequently asked questions” section below. Also, don’t add the avocado to the portion you plan to keep as leftovers (it’ll brown in a day).
Frequently Asked Questions
Instead of using walnuts, use chopped pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds).
In lieu of panko bread crumbs, try gluten-free panko (the Kikkoman brand also sells gluten-free panko). I wouldn’t use regular bread crumbs, as the panko’s light flakiness is what yields the fabulous crispy texture in this salad.
Sure! You can save some time that way.
They are quite similar in terms of nutritional content, but there are slight differences in taste. Red beets are a characteristically a bit earthy (yet still sweet), while golden beets are a tad sweeter. Golden beets also won’t stain your fingers and surfaces :)
Store the leftover components separately to preserve the best texture. Roasted beets, fennel, herbs, and oranges can be combined together. The walnut bread crumbs will stay crispiest if stored separately in a jar at room temperature. Store the dressing in a jar in the fridge. And add the avocado only when ready to eat to prevent premature browning.
If this isn’t possible, at least try to store leftovers undressed and without avocado.
If you give this roasted beet and fennel salad a try, be sure to tag me with you recreations on Instagram and please leave a rating and review below :) It’s always much appreciated!
- 3 medium red or golden beets (about 12 to 15 ounces, 340-430g)
- 2 medium fennel bulbs (reserve fronds for salad)
- Extra virgin olive oil (for roasting)
- Kosher salt or sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 small lemon, zested and juiced
- 1/3 cup (38g) raw walnuts, finely chopped
- ⅓ cup (25g) panko bread crumbs**
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes)
- ½ teaspoon flaky or coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas, (if canned, drained and rinsed)**
- ½ cup (6g) flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- ¼ cup (3-4g) fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1 medium orange (zest it for the dressing, then peel & cut into bite-sized pieces for the salad)
- 1 large ripe avocado, cut into small chunks
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or whole grain mustard, plus more to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon sweet or hot paprika
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup (only if needed to balance the tartness)
- Preheat the oven to 425°F/218°C.
- Prep the beets. Trim off the beet greens and most of the stalks (leave some of the stalk intact to prevent beets from “bleeding” in the oven). Do not trim the beet tails (it results in less juicy beets). Wash and scrub the beets clean. Very lightly rub the beets with olive oil.
- Roast the beets. Place the beets in an ovenproof casserole-style or baking dish (or Dutch oven) and pour water into the pan to go ¼-inch (.6 cm) up the sides. Cover the pan with its lid or aluminum foil. Roast for 45-90 minutes, depending on the size of your beets, or until fork-tender. Medium-sized beets usually take 50 to 60 minutes, larger beets up to 90 minutes.
- Roast the fennel (this can be done simultaneously with the beets). Slice the stalks off from the fennel bulbs. Pick off the fronds and reserve. Slice each bulb in half vertically, then slice horizontally into wedges (1/3 to 1/2 inch thick). Toss the wedges with 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a rimmed sheet pan. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the fennel is tender on the inside and browned on the edges. For the fennel fronds, chop 2 to 3 tablespoons worth and set aside for the salad.
- When the beets are cool enough to touch, run them under cool water and peel off the skins (wear gloves if you don’t want to stain your hands). Cut the stems off and discard. Slice the beets thinly into half-moons or thin rounds (if beets are large, thinly slice into quarters).
- Make the walnut bread crumbs. Heat a medium or large frying pan over medium heat. After a minute or two, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and the chopped walnuts. Cook for 90 seconds, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the panko and stir continuously for 2 minutes. Add the remaining Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes and flaky salt. Cook for another 30 seconds until very aromatic. Take off the heat and transfer to a plate, spread out, and allow to cool.
- Make the citrus vinaigrette. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, and paprika to a jar with a lid. Add the reserved lemon zest and the orange zest from the salad to the jar. Screw on the lid and shake until emulsified. Taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper as needed. If too acidic, add a bit of maple syrup and shake again. You can also add the ingredients to a bowl and whisk until emulsified.
- Assemble the salad. Transfer roasted beets and fennel to a large serving bowl. Add the cooked chickpeas. Add ⅔ to ¾ of the walnut bread crumbs, along with 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, the parsley, dill, and reserved fennel fronds and toss to coat. Season with sea salt and pepper.
- Top with the orange pieces and avocado chunks. Add the vinaigrette and scatter the remaining walnut bread crumbs on top or serve on the side.