The cornichon is like the Pomeranian of the pickle world; excessively cute, small, full of zesty personality and practically irresistible. Little bumpy cucumbers, they are the size and shape of your pinky finger (if it was covered in warts, that is) but packed with enough sour flavor and satisfying crispy crunch to keep your palate refreshed, especially when served with a rich spread of country-style pâtés  or cheese gorging session tasting.

This salad of grilled beets and cornichon is meant to be just that, an accoutrement to a rich first course, maybe potted salmon or pork rillettes, some oozing raclette cheese or even some rounds fresh chevre. It’s very concentrated; the tender little fingerling beets are smoky and earthy, the natural sugars caramelized from the heat of the grill and at the other end of the flavor spectrum, extremely acidic and crunchy cornichons balance out the sweet beets, with pops of briny capers punctuating the entire dish.

Quite honestly, the only thing that brings the ingredients back down to earth and melds them together is a sharp mustard vinaigrette, stained pink by the beet juices. It’s true what they say, that the best things come in little packages.

Grilled Fingerling Beets with Pink Mustard Vinaigrette and Cornichons

Serves 4-6 as a first course


Grilled Beets

1 small bunch fresh beets

1 teaspoon oil

Pink Mustard Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To serve

3-4 cornichons, sliced on the diagonal

1 tablespoon brined capers

1 tablespoon minced red onion or shallot

Prep the beets and grill. Cut off the tops of the beets and reserve for another use. Coat the whole, unpeeled beets in oil and set aside. Heat the grill for at least 5 minutes over high heat. Scrape the grates with a grill brush to remove any debris, then swipe a paper towel wad dipped in vegetable oil along the grates to lubricate it.

Grill the beets. Toss the beets on the grill and cook for 10-15 minutes, rotating frequently, until the skins are charred and the flesh offers little resistance when pierced with a knife. Alternatively, you could roast the beets at 376⁰F for 30 minutes. Once cooked, remove the beets to a small bowl and allow to cool enough to handle, 15-20 minutes, then peel off the skin. Cut the beets in halves or quarters lengthwise (depending on their size) and arrange on a platter.

Make the vinaigrette. In the same bowl the beets were in, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing, until emulsified and thickened. Season with black pepper to taste.

Dress the beets. Pour the dressing over the beets and garnish with the cornichon, capers and onions and serve at room temperature.