Recently, I've been experimenting with preserving food. I live alone, so I often can't eat vegetables fast enough, and I end up throwing them away. That drives me crazy. In this blog, among the recipes, reviews, and ruminations on cooking, I'll periodically explore various preservation techniques, keeping my fridge full and my trash can empty. I'm starting with pickling.
Pickling is a wonderful way to preserve a vegetable's flavor and crispness, while infusing it with any variety of fresh flavors. Today, I made pickles with vietnamese flavorings—chili, lime, mint, cilantro, and coriander (an interesting aside: cilantro and coriander are actually the same plant! In America, we call the leaves cilantro and the seeds coriander, but you may see "Cilantro seeds" in a Latin market, or "Coriander leaves" in an English cookbook).
I started with fresh ingredients from Syracuse's fantastic farmer's market (note: the ingredients listed below are slightly different than those pictured. The list is correct. I used too many vegetables, i.e. more than fit nicely in one 1 quart mason jar), along with some brining ingredients from the pantry.
For heat, I included both hungarian wax peppers, which are moderately spicy (less spicy than a jalapeno) and a habanero pepper, which is extremely hot. Feel free to tone down the heat by omitting the habanero, or replacing the wax peppers with anaheim chilies.
Spicy Pickles With Vietnames Flavors:
For the pickles:
3 medium pickling cucumbers
1 small bunch cilantro
15-20 leaves mint
1 habanero pepper
2 hungarian wax peppers
For the brine:
Juice of 4 limes
Enough rice wine vinegar to bring the total acid (lime juice + vinegar) to 1 1/2 cups.
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 tbsp white sugar
1.) Chop the cucumbers to your desired thickness (I like about 1/4 inch thick slices) and set aside (feel free to cut wedges, long slices, dice the cucumbers, or leave them whole, they're your pickles!).
2.) Thinly slice the wax peppers and mince the habenero. Combine and set aside. For milder heat, remove the white pith and seeds from the peppers. The pith is the hottest part, followed by the seeds, and then the flesh.
3.) Chop the cilantro and cut the mint into thin strips, which are called chiffonade (if you'd like some instruction on chopping herbs, Serious Eats has posted a wonderful slide show, which happens to highlight cilantro and mint). Combine and set aside.
4.) Combine all the brine ingredients in a small saucepan and place over high heat. As soon as the liquid just starts to boil:
remove it from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
5.) In a 1 quart mason jar, place a layer of cucumbers, followed by a layer of peppers, then a layer of herbs. Press down to make sure everything is tightly packed, then repeat the layering process until the jar is full and packed with vegetables.
6.) Slowly pour the cooled brine into the jar until it is full to just below the brim. All the vegetables should be covered. Cover and refrigerate.
Your pickles will be delicious after even a few hours, but they will keep in the fridge for months, getting more and more intensely flavored as time goes by.
These pickles liven up a sandwich (such as roast pork, turkey burger, or tuna fish), go into salads (such as a salad of corn, black beans, and tomatoes, or rice vermicelli noodles, shredded carrots, scallions and chicken thighs), or can be served along side a piece of breaded, pan fried snapper or a roasted chicken. Try to pair them with dishes or flavors you might find in Vietnamese or Mexican cuisine, and incorporate flavors from the pickles (mint, cilantro, lime, chili) into the dish. You can even use the pickle juice as an ingredient, maybe as the base for a salad dressing or to finish a sauce. Experiment and, as my great-grandmother Clara used to say "Enjoy, enjoy."