Pickled beets have long been a Scandinavian food staple. My Norwegian grandmother canned many batches of them each fall so that they might be enjoyed on their southwestern Minnesota farm through the cold winter months.
My mother would bring jars of pickled beets back with her when we visited the farm, and she would eat them as a little relish with all manner of dinners. I was not an early fan. When I went to my very first cooking school class, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves and name our least favorite food. When it was my turn to share, I very quickly said beets, probably making a little disgusted face to go with it. The chef looked at me for a moment and then said, “I promise…you will like beets by the end of this class.” And so it was. I learned how to roast them in a hot oven, caramelizing their exterior and accentuating their earthy sweetness. I learned how to shred and sauté them in olive oil and fresh herbs, finishing them with a little tarragon vinegar. And since that first cooking class, almost 20 years ago, I have also learned to eat them shredded and raw in salads and on sandwiches, juice them and roast them whole. And I have loved beets in all of these forms. So why not pickled beets? I decided it was time to revisit them and create my own recipe.
Tips for Delicious and Easy Pickled Beets
- Roast the beets rather than boiling them. I wanted my Spicy Pickled Beets to have firmer texture than the sometimes mushy pickled beets I encountered as a child. After doing a fair amount of research, I found that most pickled beets are boiled prior to pickling. One recipe I found, Alton Brown’s, called for roasting the beets instead. This method greatly improved the texture of my pickled beets and was just what I was looking for: pleasantly firm and not at all mushy. And roasting is such an easy, hands-off method. Just drizzle the beets with olive oil and wrap them in foil. They practically cook themselves.
- Use a brine without a lot of sugar. Some recipes for pickled beets contain a lot of sugar. But because beets are so naturally sweet on their own, they really don't need much to enhance their subtle sweetness.
- Choose the right combination of spices. The spices I’ve chosen for my Spicy Pickled Beets are some of the Scandinavian classics....bay leaf, peppercorns, all spice berries and juniper berries. In my research of pickled beets, I came across a recipe in Lagom: The Swedish Art of Eating Harmoniously by Steffi Knowles-Dellner that called for red chile pepper flakes. I gave them a try in my brine and they were just the thing to make these pickled beets a real stand-out: traditionally spiced with just a hint of heat.
- Opt for the quick pickling method. I'm not going to lie, the traditional canning process intimidates me. For my Spicy Pickled Beets, I wanted an easy recipe I could throw together without it becoming a day-long production. Quick pickling provides that kind of ease and immediacy. Simply bring your brine to a simmer and pour it over the prepared beets. Let them sit for 30 minutes and they are ready to go! No giant vats of boiling water, sterilizing of jars or worrying about whether you've managed to achieve a proper seal. The only drawback is that quick pickled beets are not designed for long-term storage. They are intended to be stored in the refrigerator and polished off within a couple of weeks. But trust me, that won't be a problem.
Please give these easy Spicy Pickled Beets a try! If you need some inspiration for using your Spicy Pickled Beets, I've got a few recipes here on the blog for you:
- Swedish Meatball Smørrebrød with Creamy Pickled Beet Salad
- Pickled Beet Salad
- Herbed New Potato Salad with Pickled Golden Beets and Capers
- Roasted Salmon Smørrebrød with Creamy Mustard Dill Sauce and Pickled Beets
- Pytt i Panna
- Danish Burgers with Caramelized Onions and Lentil Salad
Spicy Pickled Beets
- 12-16 ounces small to medium-sized beets
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 5 allspice berries
- 10 juniper berries
- 10 peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon dried chile flakes
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub and trim beets. Place beets on a large piece of foil and drizzle them with olive oil. Using your hands, rub oil onto the surface of the beets. Fold foil over and seal the edges making a pouch. Place pouch on a baking sheet and transfer to oven. Roast beets for 45-60 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Smaller beets will take less time than larger ones.
- Remove beets from oven and open pouch. Let cool before handling. Once the beets are cool enough to work with, rub the skin off with a paper towel and slice into ½ inch thick wedges. Transfer to a quart sized mason jar.
- Meanwhile, heat remaining ingredients over medium-low heat until simmering and sugar has dissolved. Pour mixture into the jar with the beets. Allow to cool at room temperature. Cover and place in the fridge. Consume beets within two weeks.