Scrub a beet.
The deep red will color the white bristles of your vegetable brush. Scrub off the thin layer of earth, only later to find that its soil has penetrated the deepest parts of the flesh. Place the beet in a small pot of salted water to boil. The water will bubble and the beet will slowly bleed into the pot until it becomes like a single beating heart, thrusting against the rising currents. Pierce it with a fork and watch the juice bleed like a wounded soldier, or a knifed assassin, a melodramatic scorned lover of Shakespearean proportion. A freshly boiled beet, drained of its crimson liquid and placed steaming on a wooden cutting board is a thing of beauty.
Step away from it for a moment. Watch the steam rise and think of your own beating organ. Think of the shape, the heat of your own machinery. Palm the newly heated beet and feel the heaviness, swollen with hot water and now fleshy. Marvel over the sudden metamorphosis from hard knotted fist, to soft, delicate, meat.
Pickled beets are one of my favorite snacks. The brilliant vermilion color of the beets, dressed in a tangy brine, brighten up salads, rice dishes or meat entrees. They are certainly an acquired taste and I can honestly say that for the first 20 years of my life I HATED them. My experience of beets consisted of my mother slopping them out of the can, heating them in the microwave and serving with a pat of butter. They tasted like dirt and mold and all things unholy.
I refined my palette over time and now fresh beets boiled or baked or grated raw into a salad taste of sugar and earth. It’s true that this humble root can take on a musty, dirt-like flavor if not properly prepared. Which is why I prefer eating beets with acidic ingredients like balsamic, lemon, salt or tart cheeses.
Sweet Beet Relish
1-2 pounds of beets, boiled, peeled and diced. I think precooked beets work just fine, but avoid canned.
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 large red onion, finely diced
1-2 tbsp pickling spices (or a mixture of mustard seed, juniper berries, clove, thyme and bay)
2 Tbsps brown sugar
1 Tbsp salt (pickling salt or sea salt is fine)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Cracked pepper to taste
Put all ingredients into a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 20-35 mins until liquid had evaporated. Taste. You can make the relish sweeter or saltier if you like.
The end result is a tangy, delicate pickle, more silky than crunchy. It makes a colorful accompaniment to salads and you can use it on hotdogs and sandwiches in place of cucumber relish. I like to enjoy this relish on toast with tea, but straight out of the bowl is good too.