I love pickles. Pickled anything, really (okay, maybe not pickled eggs).
The word pickle immediately brings to my mind the fat and nubby cucumber model. And well enough. The familiar pickle is everywhere, so silent and unassuming alongside a stage-stealer. Heaped on burgers, speared next to a smoked-meat sandwich, alongside curries or as part of a relish tray. (Does anyone else say that? Relish tray? Or is it just my grandma?)
With due respect to the humble cucumber-pickle, so delicious and crisp and briny: there is so much more.
Lots of things are made that much lovelier pickled. Sweet peppers and capers and giardiniera, that blend of cauliflower, celery, pepper, carrot and onion ubiquitous at Italian weddings. Pickles are delicious and heady, with a potent waft and they pucker the cheeks. But not-so-usual pickle candidates, like spindly spring carrots and crunchy red grapes, become positively addictive with a vinegar varnish, scented with toasted cumin or coriander or peppercorns.
Usually, pickling amounts to a protracted kitchen experience, what with the cooking, sterilizing, jarring, sealing and cooling. Last week, armed with a gorgeous handful of ruby beets, I wanted pickles. Usually, I’d follow the model I ate often growing up in a Greek home – boiled and salted, packed with an inappropriate amount of garlic and white vinegar and left to sit until silken and delicious. But that night I wanted quick and simple pickles that wouldn’t leave my house reeking of boiled vinegar, ones that felt a little more like summer.
Which led to this raw number. Thinly sliced and covered just-so with toasty spices and a splosh of good red wine vinegar, they were ready in a snap. After a week in the fridge, these beets are all about contrast. At once crisp and pliant, warm from the ginger and allspice but cool on the tongue, sweet but punchy. Restrain long enough not to eat the whole jar in a go, standing at the sink, and they’re delicious in salads, alongside cooked fish, piled in sandwiches and atop croutons lightly smeared with some tart chevre.
This simple combination of vegetable + vinegar + spice + salt can be replicated for any sturdy, thinly sliced vegetable – carrots, green beans, cauliflower, onions. And I don’t know about you, but I need my pickle fix before late-summer’s bounty gives way to frost.
Raw pickled beets
(Makes two 500mL jars)
3 large beets
4Tbsp red wine vinegar
few allspice balls
large clove garlic
small knob ginger, about 1/2Tbsp (optional, for subtle heat)
1/2Tbsp kosher or sea salt
sage leaves, or other fresh herb (optional)
In a food processor, blend garlic, ginger and salt into a fine paste. Incorporate vinegar. Slice beets very thinly across (see photo) and pack into jars with cloves and allspice. Spoon pickling liquid overtop. Put on some summer tunes, and shake the heck out of those jars. (This tenderizes the vegetables and speeds up the pickling process.) Refrigerate. To keep the brine distributed, dance and shake whenever you feel compelled, preferably often.
These can be eaten straight-away, but are best after they rest for at least a few days, optimally a week. They keep for a couple weeks sealed tightly in the fridge.