Kitchen 411: Pickling

10.7.2010

By Joshua David Stein

Summer is the season of glut, of abundance, of fresh salads. It should also, says Vanessa Barrington, be a time of pickling. And it's not too late. Barrington, a California chef and author of the new cookbook D.I.Y. Delicious (Chronicle), is a pickle evangelist. 'I could go on and on about pickles,' she says. 'They are daunting to people because they think you have to can them. But if you pickle in small batches, you can just put them in your refrigerator.' Pickles can be preserved with vinegar, lacto-fermented with salt, and wild-fermented with salt. All three methods are easy and prolong the life of the vegetable in question by lowering its pH balance to the acidic side, which not only kills most bacteria but also imbues the pickle with its addictive tangy essence.

Barrington's book offers a great from-scratch recipe for a garlic-laced cucumber relish (see below), which complements everything from fish to black-eyed peas to hot dogs, but you can pickle pretty much anything. She suggests substituting zucchini for cukes, and Delicious also includes instructions for making lacto-fermented baby beets, which turn delicately sour but remain crisp. If you belong to a community supported agriculture program, where members receive regular deliveries of seasonal farm-grown produce, then mastering the art of pickling is a special boon. 'Sometimes you'll end up with a big pile of zucchini or cucumber,' Barrington says. 'If you don't know how to use them, pickling extends their life and changes their flavor. Plus it's cool to show up at a party and say, 'Here's some fermented kale and mashed potatoes.''

A D.I.Y. Side

Garlicky Cucumber Pickle Relish

1 pound pickling or Persian cucumbers (about six), peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup distilled white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 whole garlic clove, peeled
1 small, fresh mild red chili, seeded and quartered, then sliced thinly
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

Sterilize 1-pint mason jar and lid with boiling water. Air-dry.

Cut cucumbers into quarters lengthwise. Scrape out seeds. Cut each quarter lengthwise in half then dice into 1/4-inch pieces. Put cucumbers in strainer and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of salt over them. Hand toss and let cucumbers drain for 30 minutes. Squeeze and massage cucumbers once or twice during this time to help release their liquid.

In small saucepan over medium heat, bring 1/4 cup water, vinegar, sugar, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil. Boil for five minutes.

Pound garlic to a paste with pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle.

Remove vinegar mixture from heat and stir in garlic.

Pack drained cucumbers, chili, and dill into mason jar. Pour in hot vinegar mixture and fasten lid. Refrigerate three days to blend flavors. Relish will remain crisp with flavor and keep, refrigerated, for up to two weeks.

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