To discover the ins and outs of pickling at home, we turned to Karen Solomon, author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It and Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It and most recently, Asian Pickles: Japan. As the titles of her cookbooks suggest, Solomon is an expert in food preservation and DIY kitchen techniques. Here, she’s provided a couple of her favorite recipes and best tips for making briny, crunchy pickled produce in your own kitchen.
Cucumbers: consider yourself warned. You’ve ruled the pickling school long enough! Your very presence has become synonymous with preservation in vinegar and salt, and you’ve muscled too many other vegetables (and fruits!) off of the pantry shelf. We are hereby opening our minds and our kitchens to other pickling possibilities. And cucumber, you are (temporarily- at least until next summer) cut out of the equation.
Have all of the cucumbers left the room? Oh, good. Now you and I are free to really talk.
Don’t ask what your pickle can do for you. Ask what you can do for your pickle. For starters, you can think of unconventional vegetables: apples, pears, cauliflower, zucchini.
But what do you want your pickle to do for you? Should it accentuate a cheddar cheese sandwich? How about if it becomes its star? Then clearly you’ll want to try your hand at a ploughman’s pickle, my interpretation of the popular British Branston pub pickle, that’s sweet from apples and dates, and terribly tangy from a nice bite of apple cider vinegar and red onion. This chutney-esque pickle goes on to be ridiculously crunchy from in-season cauliflower stems and carrots. This one must be tried to be believed, as it’s way more than the sum of its parts. While I call for fresh zucchini, you could swap that out for cucumber pickles, but that would just boost that vegetable’s ego once again, doncha think?
And now…for something completely different! Pickled fruit. That’s right: pickled fruit. I like to vamp up grapes, raisins, figs, pears, apples, etc. with a vinegar bath, with results that are sweet and savory simultaneously. But right now you’ll find Asian pears in Japanese and Chinese grocery stores (or if you’re lucky, at your corner store), and they pickle up perfectly: sweet and light, with a crisp, firm texture. This version flavored with pickled ginger and fresh lemon is decidedly delicious (and if you dig it, you’ll find more recipes like it in my forthcoming ebook Asian Pickles Japan). I eat this one with roast meat, with a potent blue cheese, chopped in a salad, or straight up on a fork. If you can’t find Asian pears, fret not: small, firm pears will certainly do the trick.
Cucumbers, no hard feelings, eh? There are just so many other vegetables on the vine.
Pickled Asian Pear with Lemon
Time: 3 days
2 lbs. Asian pears (nashi), or any kind of sweet, firm pear
4 2” pieces of lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon (about 5 1/2 T)
4 slices pickled ginger (homemade or store-bought)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 T mirin
Select pears that are firm and on the small side. Peel them, cut into quarters, and core.
Combine all remaining ingredients in a medium nonreactive saucepan off-heat; don’t worry that the sugar is not yet dissolved. Add the cut pears to the pot to let them coat in the acidic brine.
Meanwhile, on another burner, bring a medium second saucepan of water to a simmer.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to the simmering water, leaving behind as much of the brine as possible. Simmer the pears until they turn white and are just cooked through but still quite firm, about 6 minutes. The pears should be pierce easily with a fork, but you don’t want them to overcook and get mushy. Drain, discard the water, and transfer the pears to two pint jars, packing them tightly and tucking them under the curved “shoulders” of the jar. If you plan to can these pears for shelf storage, make sure the jars and lids are sterilized.
Leaving the brine pot uncovered, bring it to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once boiling, remove from heat. Divide the ginger and lemon zest between the two jars. Pour the brine over the pears in the jars to cover completely. Cover the jars immediately. If canning, hot water bath process the fruit for 10 minutes, allow the jars to cool completely, and store up to one year. If YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT “HOT WATER BATH PROCESS” MEANS, then don’t do it. Let them rest on the countertop for 1 day before moving to the refrigerator.
The pears are ready to eat in 3 days, but taste even better after 5. They will keep their flavor for about a month in the refrigerator, but the color will begin to change after 2 weeks.
I know, I know…leftover brine. Let it cool, pour it into a shaker bottle, and combine with your favorite salad oil. It makes a wonderful salad dressing.
Makes 2 pints. Source: Asian Pickles Japan
And what, you’re asking, is ploughman’s pickle? Well, it’s a killer British condiment traditionally part of a ploughman’s lunch — the quintessential pub grub: bread, cheese, meat, pickled onions and this awesome, tangy, sweet condiment (it often travels under the brand name Branston Pickle). Tuck it into a Cheddar cheese sandwich. Thank me later. Most of the time you spend making this will be you getting supercozy and comfortable with your knife and cutting board. A fine, fine chop — not quite a mince, but not a thoughtless cubing, either — is really the only way to get the texture just right. Also, don’t let the tamarind paste put you off. It’s a frequent staple found in almost any Indian, Vietnamese, Thai or Latin American grocery.
Time: About 3 hours
1/2 cup tamarind paste
3 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
16 dates, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 large sweet apple, peeled, cored and chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups finely diced carrot
1 cup finely diced cauliflower, mostly stems
1 cup finely diced zucchini
1 cup finely diced red onion
Instructions: Whew! That was a lot of chopping. Now, let’s make the brine.
Put the tamarind in a medium bowl, add 1 cup warm water, and let sit for 10 minutes. Using your bare hands, squish the paste and water together into a liquid slurry. Remove and discard all seeds and pods.
In a large, covered saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the tamarind slurry, vinegar, sugar, dates, apple, salt and garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, mashing the fruit with a wooden spoon or potato masher as it softens. Once the volume of the liquid has reduced by about half and the mixture has become thick and syrupy, turn off the heat. Add the carrot, cauliflower, zucchini and onion and stir to coat completely. Allow the vegetables to rest in the pot, covered, for 1 hour. Makes about 8 cups.
How to Store It: Pack the pickle into clean glass jars and refrigerate for up the 3 months. Or pack it into sterile canning jars and process for 15 minutes. This will keep for up to 1 year on the shelf.
Food and lifestyle writer Karen Solomon is the author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It, Asian Pickles: Japan, and a contributor to Chow! San Francisco Bay Area. She also writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and is a former editor and columnist for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Her writing has appeared in Fine Cooking, Yoga Journal, Prevention, the SF Zagat Guide, and dozens of Bay Area and national publications. Visit KSolomon.com.