Beet pickles

April 15, 2012 § 7 Comments

When left to my own devices, I’m not that likely to cook a whole meal at once. More often than not, I will make a few dishes that roughly coordinate and then assemble them into meals as hunger and patience levels dictate. For those who similarly appreciate this casual “cut and come again” style, these beet pickles will hopefully become a part of your repertoire, as they’re so easy to make, last a while in the refrigerator, and taste like more effort was put into them than really was. These are high impact, low effort fast food, once you take into account that there is a two day waiting period while the beets and the spicy, sweet, and sour pickling liquid mingle.

Beets were never a huge part of my food lexicon growing up, but within the last few years they’ve graduated from idle appreciation to full-out obsession, which is surprising since they’re a rather humble vegetable. However, their clear, sweetly earthy taste, satisfying crunch even when pickled, and most of all their showstopping colors, brighten even the dreariest day.

Beets work exceptionally well as pickles, as their natural sugars play counterpoint to the sour, spicy notes in the pickling vinegar. For the pickling mixture, I chose rice vinegar due to its delicate aroma, orange juice for both sweetness and sourness, and mustard seed, dill seed, and coriander together create an intriguing hint of muskiness. The best part for me is the spiciness that the black peppercorns, ginger, and dried chilies provide, leaving a buzzy hum in the mouth.

As I had four beets total, I pickled the two golden beets together and combined the striped red and white one with the red beet. Unfortunately the striped one took on an overwhelming purple hue due to the red beets, so you may instead consider reserving the striped beets for enjoying immediately so as to better appreciate their charm.

After the required resting, the bicolor beet pickles were then reunited briefly on my plate alongside some chilled smoked chicken, which I confess I didn’t make myself but bought from the local Chinese market. If you can’t find smoked chicken, smoked oily fish, and soft creamy cheeses work well too. Though the pickled beets are probably intended to be a condiment, their tingly sweet-sour crunchiness is justifiable on my plate as a vegetable dish in their own right.

Beet pickles

Heavily adapted from Red

Makes two eight-ounce (250 ml) jars of pickles, enough to serve four people, or generously serve two greedy people


  • One bunch rainbow beets (about four small beets), tops removed and reserved for another purpose (see note)
  • Two cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • One 1-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • One and a half cups (375 ml or 12.5 fluid ounces) rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml or 4.2 fluid ounces) water
  • Juice of one orange
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams or 3.5 ounces) granulated sugar (bonus points if you use beet sugar!)
  • Two tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
  • Two dried chilies

1. Clean the canning jars, lids, and rings thoroughly in hot water and let air dry (be careful not to touch the inside of the jars or lids when handling).

2. Scrub the beets and then thinly slice the beets lengthwise so they maintain their bulb-like profile (this helps later on when you’re trying to distinguish between a pickled beet slice and a slice of ginger). Thinly slice the ginger and garlic cloves. Place the beets inside the jars along with the sliced garlic and ginger; set aside.

3. Prepare the pickling mixture by combining the rice vinegar, water, orange juice, sugar, sea salt, peppercorns, coriander seed, dill seed, mustard seed, and dried chilies in a non-reactive (e.g., stainless steel) saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.

4. Carefully ladle the pickling mixture over the two jars, dividing the spices and two chilies roughly evenly between. Gently tap the sides of the jars to dislodge any air bubbles, and then let the jars cool about twenty minutes. Place the lids on top and then screw on the canning rings (though not too tightly).

5. Keep the pickled beets in the refrigerator at least two days to let the flavors develop. They can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, and once opened should be enjoyed within a few days, assuming they last that long.

Note: waste not, want not, so stir-fry those beet greens with chili oil and garlic. So good!


Travers, Kitty. “Rainbow chard stalk pickles” from “Market Kitchen.” Red. Mar. 2012: 238, 240. Print.


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