It’s often said that we eat with our eyes. And that’s true enough, but if it were entirely true, wouldn’t we be devouring beets, with their luscious deep magenta hue, much more than we do? As for me, when I’m craving a vegetable, beets are seldom at the top of my list. And yet, I do enjoy roasted beets in a salad, or a hearty beet borscht soup, or crisp pickled beets. With their dominant flavor and color, beets are not as widely useful as say, carrots, but cast in their proper role, they can be very good indeed.
Historically, beets seem to have originated in the Mediterranean region, and culturally they are most associated with the cuisines of central and east Europe. Botanically, beets are in the same family as chard, spinach and quinoa. Nutritionally, they uniquely contain betalains, which are thought to be strong antioxidants. Members of this family also may contain oxalates, which in large quantities, for some people may inhibit calcium absorption. Generally though, for most people, the health benefits of eating members of this family are believed to far outweigh the risks. For maximum nutritional benefit, dice the beets and steam them for about 15 minutes, serve with your favorite light dressing. And if you find beets with tender, fresh stems and leaves still attached, those are highly edible as well. Cook as you would other green vegetables.
As for this recipe, I’d never made pickled beets before and because I’d put them on the menu for our Monday night dinner last week, I had no choice but to come up with a recipe. Procrastinator that I am, I waited until the last minute to make these pickles. Hence the word “quick” in the title. And thus was born a recipe for pickles which can be made in 24 hours. You may quibble that these beets are more “marinated” than “pickled,”and you might be right. If you have time to leave them in the pickling brine for several days, they’ll probably be even better. Use red beets, or a combination of red and golden beets as I did. In either case, the colors will be spectacular. Recipe, after the jump.
QUICK PICKLED BEETS AND RED ONIONS
4 medium/large beets, (I used two red and two golden yellow beets)
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
For the pickling broth:
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup beet cooking liquid
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons rice syrup or sweetener of choice, or to taste
generous pinch of salt
a few cracks of black pepper
juice of one or two lemons, to taste
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1. Wash and trim the beets. Place in a pot with water to cover and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then cook at a lively simmer about 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into a beet goes in with little resistance.
2. Rinse the beets with cold water, and under running water, slip off the skins. Slice the peeled beets crosswise. Place the sliced beets in a non-reactive bowl or jar.
3. While the beets are simmering, prepare the brine by combining all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan. Bring just to a boil, then simmer gently for five minutes.
4. Add the sliced onion to the ingredients in the sauce pan and simmer for an additional minute or two. Pour this mixture over the sliced beets.
5. Allow this to cool, then refrigerate and let marinate over night, or longer. This quick pickle should keep, refrigerated, for a week or so.