Recently I heard beets described as “pedestrian”. I was shocked… at first. I thought to myself, “In what world are beets pedestrian?” But after chewing on this for awhile, I am ready to admit that the presence of beets on restaurant menus has become de rigueur. Like caesar salad, beets have become a mainstay within restaurant culture, everyone has their own slightly different version – some more successful than others. Because of my love of beets, I can be counted on to order pretty much any beet on a menu. I am very reliable that way. Whereas at one point in time I was just happy to see the word “beet” on a menu, now I am becoming an expert and paying attention to how the beets are prepared and what accompaniments they are served with. This has made me realize that not all treatments of beets are equal and I have become more discerning in my “beet love”.
Here are my unscientific findings:
- I prefer beets cold versus warm
- I like beets best in salad form, greens optional
- Beets show off very well alongside salty cheeses (such as feta or goat) and earthy nuts (such as pistachios or walnuts)
- Roasted beets are nice, but I have learned that I like them better once they have been marinated in vinaigrette or pickled. They are similar to mushrooms in that they are a great vehicle for other flavors, since their own flavor can be subtle and earthy.
If you are thinking about preparing beets at home, it can feel a bit intimidating at first, with their long greens and dirt-covered skins. But roasting beets is quite simple and I recommend that you try it, if you haven’t before. (Here is a step-by-step guide to roasted beets.) Pre-prepared beets are also available in most grocery stores. I even saw a huge container of them at Costco the other day (maybe they are pedestrian after all)! The question is, what do you do with these beets once roasted or taken out of their vacuum pack? Have you opened that container, hoping to replicate your favorite restaurant-quality salad only to be a bit disappointed? I have learned that by just letting them hang out in a vinaigrette for a half hour or so before adding them to a salad does wonders, or… (drum roll, please)… You can pickle them for later use!
This is my first foray into the world of pickled beets. When I began to think about attempting this project, I did my usual routine of consulting all of my canning cookbooks to compare processes and flavors. Every canning cookbook I own had their own slightly different version of beets. This tells me that although I am new to the process, the pickling of beets is quite standard. The recipe I ended up adapting is from Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler’s book, Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen. I liked that their recipe for Sweet Apple Cider Baby Beets didn’t use loads of sugar and the spices seemed nicely aromatic, but not too crazy. I have doubled the recipe in their book and added white onions, as I believe if you are going to the trouble of canning you may as well make more than just a few pints, if possible.
Pretty Pickled Beets
yield: about 8 pints
6 pounds baby beets, scrubbed
1 white onion, cut into large slices
4 cups water
2 cups cider vinegar
4 tablespoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 star anise pod
1 cinnamon stick
Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids. (After cleaning my jars, I like to keep them in a 200 degree oven so that they are ready when I am.)
Trim the beets by cutting off the top part, near the stem, as well as the root end. Place the beets in a large non-reative pot (if using different-colored beets, separate them into two saucepans). Cover with water and boil for about 15 minutes, or until the beets are just tender. (Roasting the beets is also fine.) When the cooked beets are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut into slices 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick.
(Note: The beet skins should slip off easily – just rub them with your fingers. You can wear latex gloves to prevent your fingers from getting stained. If you have trouble slipping off the skins, you can also use a vegetable peeler.)
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the vinegar, water, salt, and brown sugar to a boil. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Place allspice, peppercorns, star anise, and cinnamon in each hot jar. Divide beet and onion slices among the jars, packing tightly without bruising them. Ladle the hot vinegar mixture into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Make sure the beets are fully covered with the liquid.
Check for air bubbles, wipe rims, and seal. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Let the jars stand undisturbed for 24 hours and then set them aside for 1 week for the flavors to develop. If a seal has failed, store the jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Enjoy your beets straight from the jar or mixed into a salad!