Friday, July 10, 2009

Pickled Beets/Salad

People seem to have very distinct ideas about pickled beets. Which is to say some people hate them, others love them and a fair amount can take them or leave them.

I love them, and given I grew up with a grandmother who used to by the ones in a can that were super sweet, cut into large dice and were suspended in a corn starch, thickened, sugar sauce (a close relative to the thick, red, sweet and sour sauce you get in Chinese Take Out Food on your ribs) it's amazing that I love them, you'd think I run from the room when they were present.
The proper name for the above mentioned thick diced beets is Harvard Beets.
Stick with pickling.

If you don't want to be bothered pickling your own Ricks Picks is a local pickle maker (and a real character) who sells a wonderful variety of wittily named pickles that are for sale at Whole Foods and sometimes at the green market.

If you are up for it, pickling beets is real easy and like most preserves and pickles such a treat to find at the back of your fridge mid winter.

After a couple of years of experimentation I've come up with this recipe which is spicier than most, with a nice balance between vinegar and sugar.

It occurred to me this week that these gems would be great in a salad. A kind of retro riff off of Alice Waters classic beet salad with goat cheese. A salad equally at home mid-February as part of a late night supper or in your high August picnic basket.

Julianne your beets, lets say 2 cups, toss them in about 1/2 cup of olive oil generously salt and grind fresh black pepper on them, and if you want add a drizzle of local honey (optional). Toss well and leave in a bowl.

Meanwhile roast some walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts until just brown and aromatic. Maybe 10 minutes at 350 maybe a little longer. If you choose hazelnuts toss them in a paper bag, shake
about and get as much of their annoying skin off as possible, but don't drive yourself mad over it.

When lightly browned, take the nuts out of the oven and empty them from the baking sheet into a bowl add a teaspoon of oil and some salt, toss.

You could use any green you want to but grated cabbage would be my first choice(I like to use both red and white) maybe 4 cups tossed in a mustard vinaigrette with a drizzle of the pickling juice (1/2 cup oil, 1 T Dijon mustard, 2 T cider or red wine vinegar, pickle juice to taste optional, salt and pepper) or a traditional mayo or use the one from the first potato salad from last week. Toss the cabbage with what ever dressing you are using. Let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes if you can. Re-toss before assembling.

Top with the prepared beets, and finish with nuts and cheese. If it's winter I'd be inclined towards a crumbly Stilton in the summer feta or fresh goat cheese.

Ask you local cheese monger what's good and experiment.

Pickled Beets

Cook and peel 4 - 4 1/2 pounds of beets. Everyone seems to have a different method for this, the one I favor these days is here. It was pointed out to me that it is wasteful of water and that beats can be wrapped in tin and foil and cooked at 375F for 20-30 minutes and allowed to cool inside the tin foil (creating steam condensation) once pierced successfully with a tooth pick. Then peeled and processed.

I used to do this but found the skins didn't come off as easily, but that could have just been some weird idiosyncratic bunch of beets that I cam across determined to give me a hard time. Anyway...

In a heavy bottomed pan pour 4 cups of apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar, 1 teaspoon whole allspice, 2 sticks of Cinnamon, 2 teaspoons cloves, bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar, then turn the heat down so the pickling liquid is at a gentle simmer, add your prepared beets (I like to slice into thin disks the bigger beets and keep the smaller ones whole - also use a selection of types of beets if you can).

Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let come to room temperature.

If you are canning them go ahead and place them in sterilized jars and process otherwise they make fine refrigerator pickles, place them in a seal able container (I use those fancy Italian ones with the glass lids, the brand name we get here in NYC is Fido, but any you fancy will work, just make sure they have been well cleaned and soapy water and rinsed).

The longer you wait to eat these babies the more imbued with mellow spice they get.

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