I think I first fell in love with beets back at Charlie Browns, when we'd go for dinner during a busy week of teaching, school, rehearsals, lacrosse practice, chorus or whatever else. My favorite, as long as I can remember, was the salad bar. An endless array of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, macaroni salad, black olives, sunflower seeds, cauliflower, croutons, breadsticks, jardinieira, spread out before me like a magic carpet, glittering with crushed ice and neon buckets of glossy dressing. I'm not sure what made me try the beets. Maybe it was mom's intense hatred of them. "They taste like DIRT! UCH!" I always had weird ways of rebelling. But it didn't take long for me to incorporate them into the salad rotation, smooth wet purple orbs atop a bed of iceberg, slathered in some kind of creamy italian. Boo: 'Creamy Italian' = Jersey. Even processed, canned, and sitting out for hours under a sneeze-guard, I could taste the earthiness, the sweetness. And in the days before makeup, they dyed my lips a beautiful bloody red, which no complimentary wet-nap could dull.
Now, beets are old news. How many countless goat cheese-walnut pairings have I had at how many countless neighborhood restaurants? But love them, I do. And while they've taken on the familiar and pleasant comfort of an old lover, like any long love affair, there are phases of renewed excitement where you see your love with new eyes. Right now is one of those times. It's a second honeymoon.
PICKLED BEETS. Not a new concept. But my passion for anything that sits in vinegar and sugar and salt for long enough to give that lovely salivating kick in the back of your throat, is powerful. Recently, I had some pickled beets made by our friend Chef Josh, who served them with....cottage cheese. Frankly I wasn't all that psyched about the pairing, but I trust Josh, and when a Chef is feeding you, you do what you're told. How glad am I that I did? The cream of the cheese cuts the sharpness of the beets and lends another layer of texture. Josh douses the pickled beets and onion (or shallots) with olive oil, salt and pepper, then spreads generous dollops of the cheese over the top, sprinkling it with more oil and fresh thyme. It's unbelievably good. I can eat bowl after bowl of the stuff.
I pickled some of my own the other day when I just HAD to have some. Three days later I'm already through half of each jar. It's lunch, dinner side dish, after-school snack, addictive. Trust me on this one.
Of course you can eat them straight or on salad, or with falafel or sausage, or a pork chop. But these days, for me, it's cottage cheese all the way.
Here's a link to Josh's recipe. I made mine slightly differently, influenced by Alton Brown's recipe, part as experiment, and part because I was out of a few ingredients. Both versions are delicious.
Pickled Beets with Cottage Cheese
8 medium beets, roasted (I used half golden and white beets, and half red)
1 small red onion (1 small yellow onion, if you're doing golden too)
2 Cups rice vinegar
1 Cup water (or a little more if you don't like it super vinegary)
1.5 tblespoons kosher salt
3/4 Cup of sugar
To roast beets: drizzle generously with vegetable oil, salt and pepper, wrap in tin foil and roast in oven at 400 for about 50 minutes depending on the size of the beets. While still warm, using a paper towel, rub skins off. They should come off easily.
Slice onion very thinly. Slice beets to about 1/4 in thick. Pack two jars with beets and onions, alternating. If you're using gold beets, keep them separate from the red ones or everything will just turn out red. Heat the rest of the ingredients until boiling and dissolved. Pour into jars over beets, leaving a small amount of space at the top, but letting bubbles escape. Wait 24 hours before tasting.
Drizzle beets and onions with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pile cottage cheese on top, and add more oil and s&p to taste. Scatter fresh thyme over the top.