Pickled Beets Are The Tangy Ingredient That Will Elevate Your Salads

In his seminal novel "Jitterbug Perfume," legendary American author and environmentalist Tom Robbins wrote, "The beet is the most intense of vegetables ... You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip ... The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried ... the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies." It might seem like equally "intense" praise for a dirty root veggie, but it's well-deserved.

Whether you're sprucing up the bagged spring mix you slam in your lunchbox every workday or building a show-stopping entrée salad to impress garden party dinner guests, pickled beets lend an interesting textural element, adding crunch to your go-to (even predictable) bowls. Beets' naturally mineral-rich, slightly sweet flavor takes on a funky dimensionality when pickled. The pickled acidic crunch provides an instant mouth-watering burst of fermented flavor. 

Plus, the briny acidity can cut through richer creamy salad dressings, preventing 'em from weighing down the light bowlful. And thanks to the pickling's diamond-strong shelf-stability, you can keep some pickled beets on hand whenever salad hour strikes. A little goes a long way with this flavorful ingredient, so start with a pinch and adjust to taste from there. You could even set out a dish of pickled beets and allow dinner guests to add their desired amount individually.

Just beet it (and break out the vinegar)

This salad upgrade can also be a great way to flex those homemade pickled beets that have been waiting in your pantry or root cellar (or, if the thought piqued your interest, we have a recipe for sauerkraut-ish pickled beets to help get you started). For home gardeners, pickling is a solid tactic for getting the most out of your fall beet harvest. You could pickle 'em in apple cider vinegar for extra funk, in rice vinegar and pickling salt for an acidic umami kick, or with sugar and regular distilled white vinegar to really let the earthy-sweet beet flavor shine. 

Also, if you make them yourself, you can customize the bite by slicing your beets into strips or coins before pickling them. Store-bought pickled beets are totally fine here, as well. They typically come jarred in the canned vegetable aisle at grocery stores. Pickled beets would be great in this spinach salad with roasted fennel and grapefruit. They'd be further elevated by a complementary citrus juxtaposition with orange zest, orange wedges, apples, chopped red onion, and almonds. 

You could also use them in a savory winter salad of pickled beets, smoked trout or herring, crumbled goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, and chopped walnuts, with a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, dry mustard, and olive oil. Along with dark greens like spinach and peppery arugula, pickled beets are also a great addition to classic tuna salad. And you don't have to stop at salads — pickled beets are also a great way to amp up your yogurt.