Winter Salad – Pickled beets and Endive
When I was a baby, we lived in Denmark for a little less than a year – my father was there on business. We were there for my first birthday, and the first Christmas that I was paying attention (I’d been a newborn the year before) so, while I don’t actually remember any of it, I grew up with my parents talking about it, and, as a family, we followed some Danish Christmas traditions. I have straw ornaments on my tree, and a wooden Nisse (essentially a Danish elf or Santa equivalent.)
One food my mother spoke about was something she called Winter Salad – pickled beets with Belgian endive. It makes a lot of sense – beets, as a root vegetable, are available in winter – and pickling is an even better way to store them. And Belgian endive (also called chicon or witloof) is a fascinating vegetable, a form of chicory. You grow the plant during the year, then store the root, and force it in damp sand – much like forcing flowers from bulbs in winter. Definitely a winter vegetable. (Sorry for the fuzzy picture…)
I’ve tried looking it up, and don’t see much evidence of this combination actually being a common dish. I don’t know if traditions have changed, now that it is easier to get fresh vegetables imported from warmer areas, or if it was originally just something one of her friends had as a personal or family tradition, that Mom misunderstood as something more common… but it is certainly something I’ve eaten and enjoyed most winters. It’s good to have a cool, sharp tasting salad to serve as a contrast to all the heavy winter stews and beanpots – without having to always resort to sad looking lettuce shipped across the continent…
My mother used to make it with ordinary canned beets, an endive, and a recipe she had for Quick Pickled Beets. She used the endive at Christmas time – and sometimes other times – but also would substitute a raw onion, sliced into rings. The hot brine mellows it, so it is still a bit crunchy without being too pungent.
I’m sure this is not the beet recipe she ate in Denmark. I have found some Scandinavian recipes for pickled beets, and they’re spiced differently – and they are also canning recipes. I am not really sure how they would work when I then added the raw vegetable, endive or onion. I have absolutely no idea where she got this – a magazine? a friend? no attribution… I have it in the notebook of recipes I copied when I had my first apartment, in college.
Anyhow – this is very easy. You take a can of beets – just plain sliced beets, not already pickled – and pour out the liquid into a saucepan. The recipe called for half a cup, so I did measure, here, but I usually reserve the rest, in case I need more liquid to cover the beets in the jar. Add the vinegar and spices to the pan. Bring it to a boil, simmer for just a minute or two.
Meanwhile, slice the endive across and separate the leaves. (If you use onion, I usually slice it in half from root to stem, and then slice it in half circles – you can keep it in rings if you like.) Layer the beet slices and the endive alternately in a jar.
Pour the hot beet liquid over the vegetables. Make sure you pour directly on the vegetables, so it cools slightly before hitting the glass… If I’m not using a canning jar, I let the jar stand full of hot tap water a few minutes before filling it, so the glass isn’t cold. I’ve never had it crack, but… I’d rather be a bit careful.
Make sure the liquid covers the vegetables – if it doesn’t, add any reserved beet juice. You may want to use a spoon to press the vegetables down evenly into the liquid.
Cover the jar, let it cool, then refrigerate at least overnight. I like 2 or 3 days, myself… The endive turns this lovely pink color, which deepens with time. It’s a light pickle – not too sharp for people who aren’t as obsessed with pickles as I am (cough… Rich… cough… poor man usually just ignores all my sours, but specifically commented that he liked this.)
- 1 can sliced beets (15 oz)
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 bay leaf
- 3 cloves
- 1/2 t salt
- 4 peppercorns
- Belgian Endive, sliced and separated into rings (opt. - May substitute a medium onion.)
- Bring 1/2 cup of liquid from the can of beets, vinegar, and seasonings to boil in a small saucepan. Simmer 2-3 minutes.
- Layer beets and endive slices in a jar. Pour vinegar mixture over them, making sure to cover the vegetables (pushing them down, if needed.)
- Let cool.
- Refrigerate at least overnight, preferably a day or two.