I did not grow up eating beets at all–it is a vegetable that has found its way into my life in just the last decade. And beets and I–we have just “clicked.” I love beets. I love it in Iraqi beef stew, and just recently I have discovered and fallen in love with beet pickles. The firm flesh, with the ever present sweetness just makes me dizzy with pleasure–and I am in love with its bright magenta color. (though of course I love other variations like golden beets too).
I first had beet pickles at, I think, Oliveto restaurant (or was it Chez Panisse?). It’s hard to remember where I was in the faze of tastebud delight–the tang of pickling combined with the sweetness of the beets was just so heavenly. And so I went on the search for a good pickled beet at the store.
But alas, I could not find pickled beets among the cornichons, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, and other items that can be pickled. Where were–the BEETS?! At one point, I found some pickled beets at the Union Square farmer’s market in Manhattan, but they weren’t the pickled beets that I remembered and the thought of traveling home with them was too daunting at that chaotic moment.
It was, I realized, up to my kitchen to produce some pickled beets. I planted some beets in my garden, misjudging my own patience…and waited for them to grow. They got to about 5 inches high when I couldn’t stand it anymore! I wanted–nay, NEEDED pickled beets now!
I went to the store and bought some beets. I looked up some pickling recipes. And thus, I began making some homemade pickled beets.
Pickling beets is a bit time consuming, but also fairly simple. You make the pickling marinade, and let that sit over night. The next day, you boil the beets, peel and chop, and then let them sit in the pickling marinade over another night. And then in my case, you have them for breakfast the next morning!
Of course, I’ll break it down into smaller steps for you.
The majority of the “cooking” in, and complexity of, pickled beets, happens in making the pickling marinade.
But even that is quite straightforward–throw everything in a pot and simmer away! The ingredients include pickling spice, which you can buy off the shelf, but something you can also easily assemble yourself. Mine was a combination of cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, whole cloves, allspice, a slice of ginger, coriander seeds, and mustard seeds. I would add fennel seeds and cardamom in the future. You can vary the above ingredients to some extent but basically, throw equal parts of each to create a pickling spice mixture.
Of course, pickling spice alone does not a pickling marinade make!
Here are the ingredients as a whole:
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon pickling spice (above)
1/4 onion, halved and sliced into rings
3 bay leaves (not California)
3/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/4 bunch fresh dill (or more)
3 beets (1 lb without tops)
Bring all ingredients except beets to a boil in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.
Cool marinade, then chill, covered, 1 day to allow flavors to develop. Pour through a fine sieve into a bowl.
Cook beets in a saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Drain and cool. Slip off skins and cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
Stir together beets and marinade, then marinate, covered and chilled, 1 day.