Pickled Beets

Beets…. Not the first vegetable that comes to mind when you think about Chinese food? I’ve never seen beets (called tang luobo, “sugar turnip”) served in a Chinese restaurant or in a Chinese home, but their sweetness is a great foil to the pickling process and five spice powder, so I thought I’d try it. And I thought they were great!

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.


  • 3-4 small beets, tops reserved for some other dish
  • 1 T sea salt dissolved in 2 T water
  • 1 tsp brown or raw cane sugar
  • 2-3 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch of five-spice powder


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or use any temperature between 300 & 400 if your oven is on for another purpose).
  2. Wash the beets well, then pat dry and cut off the root end. Wrap loosely in foil, place in a baking pan, and roast until a sharp knife enters easily to the center, approximately 1-1.5 h if the oven is at 350. Be careful not to pierce the bottom of the foil, or the beet sugar will burn onto your pan if you need to continue to bake.
  3. Let the beets cool, then slip off the skins and refrigerate until cool.
  4. Cut into thin slices, then into strips, or use a mandolin to julienne the beets.
  5. Toss the beets with the salted water and allow to rest at room temperature for 30-60 m.
  6. Rinse in cool water and drain well, then add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  7. Adjust the seasoning – you may need to add a bit of salt – and chill until serving time.

do ahead:

You can do steps 1-2 any time up to 1 week in advance – plan to roast the beets when you have something else to bake or roast, and you’ll save yourself time and do a nice thing for Mother Earth!

The completed dish will last up to a week in the refrigerator.

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