One of the most rewarding yet sometimes difficult things to do is to find interesting ways to "use up what you put up." When I look into my freezer and cabinets I find lots of great tasting foods that I worked hard to put there, and I want to make sure I am taking advantage of all of their nutritional value. Pickled beets are one of the items that we love. My husband grew up eating them, and I began loving them after trying some of his aunt's beets that she puts up each year. They are lovely to have on hand; earthy with the winning combination of sweet and sour all rolled into one extraordinary looking vegetable.
Beets are truly underrated. People either love them or hate them, but those who hate them have often been subjected to the grocery store canned variety which are really nothing like great, fresh-from-the-garden beets. Pickling them helps them hold onto the qualities I love in beets fresh from the ground while also giving me a food item that can be used instantly.
We often eat pickled beets as a side at dinner with casseroles or sandwiches or just as a snack straight from the fridge, but they can also be added to salads, sandwiches, and soups with great success.
Since my canning season is over until spring, I want to begin to keep track of some of the ways I use the things I preserve. Here is a simple, satisfying salad full of flavor and nutritional value. It is composed of tender greens lightly tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette with walnuts, pickled beets, and a round of panko-crusted fried goat cheese. Of course, you can alter these ingredients as you see fit by changing the greens, nuts, or by simply crumbling some soft cheese on top of the salad.
Below are the recipes for the pickled beets and the salad. In some areas of the country, beets can still be found right now at local markets. If you are able to get your hands on beets, they are easy to can and are well worth the time you have to put into them. Just be sure to wear gloves or you will have jewel-toned fingers for a day or so (I am speaking from experience).
Pickled Beets- makes 4-5 pint jars
1 gallon (about 25 medium beets 2-3 inches each in diameter), scrubbed
2 cups granulated sugar
3 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups water, plus extra for boiling beets
3 1/2 tbsp pickling spice, tied tightly in a piece of cheesecloth
Place the beets (peel on) in a large pot and cover with warm water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20-30 minutes until a knife slips in and out of a beet easily. Cool the beets (for faster cooling place in a ice water). Once cool, slip the peel off of each beet and trim the stem portion away. Slice each beet into 1/4 inch thick slices. If the beets are larger, you can cut the slices in half also.
In another large non-reactive pot, bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and cheesecloth sack to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes. Remove the cheesecloth spice sack and add the beet slices. Simmer 2-3 minutes to heat the beets through. Pack beets snugly into sterilized pint jars. Ladle pickling liquid into jar to cover, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Use a bubble remover or chop stick to remove air bubbles. Adjust headspace. Top each jar with a sterilized lid and ring and process 30 minutes in a boiling water bath. Allow to sit in canner 5 minutes after processing time is complete. Remove to a towel to cool for 24 hours. Check seals, label, and store.
Pickled Beet Salad with Walnuts and Fried Goat Cheese-
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake until well blended. Alternately, place all ingredients in a bowl and slowly whisk in the oil until emulsified.
Fried Goat Cheese:
1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp water
3 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
4 slices of goat cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
Heat a skillet with the oil on medium high heat. Dip each round of cheese into the egg white and then coat in the breadcrumbs, pressing the crumbs into the cheese. Place the cheese rounds into the skillet and cook 1 minute until lightly browned. Flip and repeat with the other side. Carefully remove the cheese to a towel until ready to use (the inside of the cheese will have melted slightly so it easily loses its shape).
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
16 pickled beet slices
4 cups tender salad greens of your choice
To assemble the salad, toss the greens with enough of the dressing to lightly coat the leaves. Place 1 cup of greens in the center of each salad plate. Gently lay four beet slices on the edge of each mound of greens. Place one goat cheese round on each plate, and sprinkle each plate with a tablespoon of walnuts. Drizzle a little more vinaigrette over each salad and serve.