A simple recipe for pickled beets
When I was a child, I was pretty open to almost all foods. That puts me in a minority.
Most kids have a seriously narrow palate. Beets rank up there with spinach and liver on the list of stereotypically hated foods.
As an adult and an experienced cook, I have learned many food aversions can be traced to bad preparation. I still hate over-cooked liver. It tastes like rusty nails. Spinach, prepared improperly, has a terrible texture and odor.
I hated beets for years because I only had them out of a can or boiled for hours. Fresh beets, cooked properly, have a delicate flavor and aroma that canned versions cannot approach.
Cooking technique makes a giant difference in flavor, texture and appearance, and this applies to nearly any ingredient.
The best way to bring out the earthy flavor of beets is to roast them in their skins, then let them cool before peeling them. Sliced across the grain, even plain red beets show a nice texture and add flavor and color to your plate.
Buy fresh beets at a specialty store or farmers’ market, not your local grocery, unless you can find organic beets with the greens still attached. The price difference is often negligible.
Golden beets are a beautiful accompaniment to any entrée. Spend a bit more for heirloom bullseye beets. Red and white (or gold) rings make it easy to put a dramatic presentation on your plate.
Beets require a bit of time to cook, develop deep, musky flavor and soften enough to be palatable. The best results come from roasting beets whole. But like potatoes, they can also be cooked a myriad of ways.
The brilliant juices of red beets can stain your hands and cutting board, so think ahead. I like to prepare large batches of beets at once using disposable plastic cutting boards and latex gloves.
One of the easiest ways to serve beets is to take heirlooms and slice them in ¼ inch-thick or half-rounds and roast them. Place the lightly salted rounds on a foil-lined sheet pan and cook for half an hour or so at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. The natural sugars caramelize and add color and complex flavors.
Roasted beets, tossed in a bright-flavored vinaigrette dressing, can be added to mixed greens and cheese for a beautiful composed salad.
My favorite way to eat beets is pickled with boiled eggs. This process takes some time, but is well worth the effort. Slice, dice or sliver raw, peeled (or roasted and peeled) red beets and drop them in a boiling brine of cider vinegar and salted water flavored with peppercorns, mustard seed and other whole spices.
Once the beets are soft, pour the whole mess in a jar filled with peeled boiled eggs. Let the brine color and flavor the eggs for at least a week. The acidity and salt will keep the mix stable and safe for months in the refrigerator. The eggs will take on a nice pink color and the brine will enhance their natural savory flavor.
Pickled Beets and Eggs
Equipment: Sanitized glass jar, large sauce pot
1 dozen hard-cooked eggs, peeled
3 pounds beets, peeled and sliced, diced or slivered
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups filtered water
1/2 cup Kosher salt or 3/8 cup fine table salt (not iodized)
1/4 cup granulated sugar or 3 tablespoons honey
2-3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2-5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and crushed (or granulated garlic)
Total of 5 tablespoons other whole spices (cumin, coriander, fennel, caraway, celery, anise, etc.)
Dried herbs (marjoram, oregano, tarragon or other) to taste
Optional: mix in finely sliced red or sweet onions for more flavor
Bring water and vinegar to a boil, then add salt and sugar.
Once the brine comes back to a boil, add the beets and all other flavorings. Simmer until the beets are soft and the brine becomes pink. If the beets were roasted previously, add the flavorings first, then the beets after about 15 minutes.
Pour into a gallon jar filled with the hard-cooked eggs. Cap the jar tightly and place in the fridge. Let the eggs and beets marinate for at least a week.
For the most impressive presentation, slice the eggs in half, remove the yolks and season them, then pipe the mixture into the halved egg whites for pickled devilled eggs.
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