I was five years old when I remember eating my first beet. It was from my mother’s garden, picked earlier that day. She cooked the red root vegetable for dinner and I remember being skeptical that I would like it. “Just try it,” she said. And when I tasted its earthy sweetness and saw how the slices could stain my tiny finger tips a bright shade of pink, I knew I was a fan. Food that could double as a magic marker and was sweet, was automatically good stuff in my book.
Since then, I’ve made a lot of beets. I prefer the wrap-in-tin-foil-and-roast method of cooking . I love sautéeing the green-red tops for a midday snack. But recently, after seeing a favorite farmers market vendor offering up thin slices of beets soaked in citrus hot pepper, I thought it was time to try his technique.
After rinsing my bunch of freshly picked beets, I used a mandolin to slice the red root vegetable into thin rounds. I juiced a handful of lemons and limes (2 of each) and poured the mixture over the beets. I added a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and cayenne pepper until I could taste the salt and the spice against the sweetness of the beets. I sealed my plastic container and waited a day to taste the results of the marinade.
Unfortunately, even after a day, the beets lacked the tart, pickled quality of the farm stand’s beets. Something was missing. I waited another day and found that the beets had taken on much more of the citrus flavors. By the third day the beets were nearly perfect and were great in salads or popped directly in my mouth for a snack. On the fourth day, just before I ate the last spicy beet slice, I dreamed of bloody Mary’s garnished with beet slices.
The following week I returned to the market to find out what key ingredient I had missed. It turned out that my market partner and friend, Leah
, was equally besotted by the crunchy treat and had the very same questions. Thanks to the translation skills of the farmer’s young son, we learned that lime juice was the only citrus needed to soak the beets. And as for the spice, we learned we had missed one key ingredient–paprika.
Now that I have the recipe for that great citrus-soaked beets, I’ll be making this recipe often. I hope you do, too!
Lime Marinated Beets
These get better the day after you make them.
1 bunch of small beets (no more than three)
1 bunch of limes (4 or more depending on how big your beets are)
2 tsp kosher salt
1 or 2 generous pinches of cayenne pepper
1 or 2 generous pinches paprika
Thinly slice beets on a mandolin. Toss beets in a mixing bowl with 2 teaspoons of salt. Add a generous pinch of cayenne pepper and paprika. Juice 4 limes and toss the mixture together. Taste for balance. Add more spice or salt if necessary. What you’re going for is a nice, spicy flavor. Put beets in a shallow dish that allows a thin layer of beets submerged in lime juice. Add more lime juice if necessary. Wait a day or two before serving. If possible, move the beets around to allow for a more equitable distribution of lime juice.
Serve citrus soaked beets in salads, or as a garnish for a fancy Bloody Mary or Martini.
*PS A special thank you to Diane at White on Rice
for her help making my beet picture the best it could be!