Fermented Beets and Beet Kvass
Why This Recipe Works
by Sasha Marx
Most people associate pickled beets with the cloyingly sweet, soft, and syrupy product sold in grocery stores. In our minds, those descriptors don’t jibe with the things we value in a good pickle—crispiness, crunch, salt, acidity, and refreshment. I wanted to give beets a chance to redeem themselves, with the help of a preserving process called lacto-fermentation.
All pickled things rely on acidity to halt spoilage and impart flavor and texture. There are two basic categories of pickles: vinegar and fermented. Vinegar pickles (cornichons, for example) are soaked in a flavorful vinegar-based liquid to give them their trademark acidity and stave off harmful bacteria. Fermented pickles (such as sauerkraut and kimchi) spend days or weeks in a salt brine, which encourages fermentation and the growth of good bacteria. Submerged in brine, in the absence of oxygen, the vegetable’s natural beneficial bacteria, which include Lactobacillus, convert its sugars into the lactic acid that “pickles” the vegetable.
All of that jargon belies the simplicity of the process—cut up some vegetables, submerge them in salt brine (we like a 2 percent salt concentration for this application), store them at room temperature (we found 65 degrees F/18 degrees C to be the sweet spot, but anywhere between 50 degrees F/10 degrees C and 70 degrees F/21 degrees C works), and wait. The reward? Crispy, crunchy, sour pickles with almost zero work. Giving beets this treatment produced the sweet and sour crunchy pickle I was looking for.
As a bonus, the brine is imparted with sweetness from the sugar in the beets, making it a delicious product on its own, known in Eastern Europe as kvass. Two for the price of one! You can’t beet that . . .
Photography by Steve Klise