Make These Quick Pickled Beets And Red Onions In 24 Hours

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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.

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It’s Winter: Time to Make Sauerkraut at Home (If I Can, So Can You!)

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For years I hesitated to try making sauerkraut.  I guess I thought the process was too mysterious and difficult. Last year I tried making it for the first time and it came out wonderfully.  What I discovered was, it isn’t difficult at all. Basically, you chop cabbage, add salt, and let it sit.  In a couple of weeks, you have sauerkraut.  O.K., I exaggerate a bit, but truly, it is not complicated.

All right, I hear some of you wondering, “why would I even want to make sauerkraut at all?”  And if you’ve only eaten that mushy stuff out of a jar or can, I don’t blame you.  Take my word for it, fresh, homemade kraut is something else entirely. And nutritionally, it combines the great profile of cruciferous vegetables with the probiotic goodness of all naturally fermented foods. Vern Varona, in his book, Macrobiotics for Dummies, puts it this way: “Researchers have shown that the process of fermenting cabbage produces isothiocyanates, which are known to prevent cancer growth….Sauerkraut also has strong detoxifying properties. Containing plentiful amounts of probiotic bacteria, which create lactic acid, sauerkraut aids digestion by restoring a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria throughout the intestinal tract.” Not convinced? Once made, it’s a convenience food, as it will keep in your fridge for weeks, maybe months, no cooking or further preparation needed. True, it is salty, so think of it as a pickle or a condiment.  Eat it in small quantities, a couple tablespoons at a time. If you’re still worried about salt, give it a rinse. It’s great in sandwiches or as a condiment with rice and other grains. My easy, step-by-step directions are after the jump.

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Photos: Top--Cutting the red cabbage. Above--By the fifth day it's already looking like sauerkraut, although still crunchy and only lightly fermented.

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Condiments You’re Going to Love: Starting With Sesame Salt

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From time to time, people come to me with a question which goes like this: “I’m trying to eat a more natural, whole foods diet, but sometimes it gets a little dull.  What can I do to perk it up?”  You could perhaps interpret this entire blog as an attempt to answer that question, but today I want to focus on condiments, little bits of seasoning you apply at the table. And the condiment I highlight couldn’t be simpler: sesame seeds toasted with a little salt and then ground. We call it sesame salt or by its Japanese name, gomashio (go-mah-she-oh, goma= sesame, shio=salt). There are at least a couple of reasons we prefer sesame salt to plain table salt. First of all, it delivers a lot more flavor per gram of sodium. Secondly, sesame seeds are highly nutritious, containing as they do iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, and calcium, along with thiamine and vitamin E.

Here’s how to make sesame salt: 1) Rinse 1/2 cup unhulled brown or black sesame seeds in a fine mesh strainer and shake dry. 2) Heat a cast iron or similar thick-bottomed pan and pour in the seeds along with 1 to 1  1/2 teaspoons good quality sea salt. 3) Toast this over low heat, shaking or stirring constantly, about five minutes or until the seeds smell aromatic, turn a slightly darker color and begin to pop. 4) Grind with a mortar and pestle until about 75 % of the seeds are ground. 5) Cool, then store in a container with a lid. No need to refrigerate. Sesame salt will keep for weeks, but you’ll probably use it before then.  Sprinkle on rice, other grain dishes, noodles, even toast. Adjust the amount of salt to suit your taste. If you double or triple the recipe, it will take longer to toast the seeds. Yes, if you make a larger batch, a food processor works great, but using a mortar and pestle is more traditional and more fun.

Variations: Change up this recipe by substituting other seeds: flax, sunflower, pumpkin. Another variation: toast pumpkin seeds in a 325˚ F oven just until they begin to smell great and look a little golden, then sprinkle them lightly with umeboshi vinegar and toast for a few minutes more, or until they are dry. Watch closely! Chop coarsely in a food processor–an incredibly tasty condiment.

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Photos–Top: Grinding sesame seeds and salt with a mortar and pestle. Above: Toasting sesame seeds and salt in a cast iron skillet. Every kitchen needs one!