October 2022 – If you missed Shanta’s pickle making demonstration at our Around the Table series last month, you can find her instructional recipe here:
by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
Our ancestors had figured out how to preserve foods when they were in abundance for the time of scarcity. One of the oldest methods of preserving food in many cultures is keeping it in salt and/or acidic solution.
The method of saving food in salt and an acidic medium, as in pickled vegetables, has many health benefits. Pickles reduce muscle cramps, help with blood sugar level and digestion. Pickles are a good source of antioxidants. You can pickle a variety of vegetables, but pickling cucumbers are the best medium for making the traditional pickles. Because, the unique texture of pickling cucumbers; when they are kept immersed in its brine, the inside becomes supple while the outside remains crunchy.
I started a routine of eating pickles every day when I discovered, a few years ago, that my body could no longer tolerate spicy food. Pickles add a zest to a simple meal or a sandwich without giving discomfort that spicy food gives to some people. I like to make refrigerator pickles because they are easy to make. Unlike the long process involved in making the preserved pickles (called “shelf – stable pickles”) that are meant to last for months, the refrigerator pickles are quick to make. They are also meant to be kept refrigerated and consumed within 5 to 6 weeks. This is not a problem for me as I eat pickles almost every day. Refrigerator pickles can be made with less salt and less vinegar than the shelf-stable pickles; making the former more suitable for dietary restrictions.
The cucumbers used for pickling need to be organic or at least unsprayed as the skin is kept intact in the pickling process. The health food markets usually sell organic cucumbers in the summer from June thru mid-September. Since I like to make pickles year-around, I was searching for organic cucumbers in the winter. I found fresh pickling cucumbers in February at a local San Francisco Farmer’s Market, but they were not labeled “organic”. Upon speaking with the manager of the booth, Carlos Islas, I found out that the farm was in the process of being certified and they could not call their crop organic even though they were following organic farming methods. The conversation led to a detailed interview with Carlos describing the hurdles of organic certification process for the small farmers (This article can be found in the Richmond Review/Sunset Beacon.) I was convinced by Carlos and the taste of cucumbers that they were not sprayed. I am also delighted that the farmers markets have become education centers for us – the city folks. Similarly, the buyers at most neighborhood natural food markets are willing to inform their shoppers about their products.
If organic or unsprayed cucumbers are unavailable, use Persian cucumbers in the winter time. Persian cucumbers have thinner skin, so they will marinate faster and should be consumed within a couple of weeks. You can also make pickles out of lightly cooked cauliflower or broccoli as indicated in the second variation of the recipe.
9 – 10 pickling cucumbers (preferably organic), cut into finger-size, long strips after trimming them from both ends
2 medium size organic carrots, scrubbed to clean, cut into very thin strips
½ small Jicama; peeled using a pen knife, then cut into thin slices
3”-4”long portion of a daikon (Chinese reddish), peeled and cut into thin strips
2 small Gypsy red or yellow peppers (organic preferred) cut into strips
A dozen or more sprigs of fresh dill weed, rinsed and drained
Fresh or bottled grape leaves (preserved grape leaves are sold in specialty food markets)(See note)
8 to 10 chunks of peeled, smashed garlic cloves
Few slices of a Jalapeno pepper after rinsing and removing seeds (optional)
1¼ cups distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons (or less) salt
4 cups cold water (purified, if available, but not essential for refrigerator pickles)
2 teaspoons sugar (or less)
Rinse all vegetables. If the cucumbers are not organic, scrub them clean using a vegetable brush. Do not peel the cucumbers. But the jicama and daikon should be peeled. Cut vegetables as described in the list. Rinse and drain the dill and grape leaves. Set the vegetables and the herbs aside.
Next, prepare the brine. Combine vinegar and salt in a pan and bring them to a boil while stirring. Transfer the liquid into a bowl. In a separate bowl mix the water and sugar. Add the vinegar and salt to the water and sugar mixture. You will get about 4 cups of brine. Whisk the brine and set it aside to cool a bit. Clean 5 wide mouth, pint-size glass jars. Place a few garlic chunks and slices of jalapeno in the jar. Then, arrange a grape leaf on the wall of each jar and place some dill weed. Arrange the cucumbers and other vegetables into the jars so they are standing well-packed, but leave some room for the brine. Slowly pour a cup of brine into each jar on top the vegetables. Save the leftover liquid (if any) for the next batch or discard. Close the jars and leave them at room temperature for an hour. Then, turn the jars upside down to distribute the brine and place them onto a plate. Leave the jars like this for an hour. Then turn the jars right side up and refrigerate. The pickles will be ready to be consumed in 36 hours. If refrigerated after each use, the pickles can keep for up to 2 months. (See note 2)
VARIATION: REFRIGERATOR PICKLES USING STEAMED VEGETABLES
Some vegetables such as cauliflowers make great refrigerated pickles. However, you may want to steam these vegetables just briefly before adding the brine so that the solution permeates in the vegetables. Make sure you boil or steam the vegetables very briefly.
All the ingredients listed above for cucumber pickles, except: substitute one head of fresh cauliflower in place of cucumbers to obtain about 3 to 4 cups of florets.
Prepare all ingredients (except for cucumbers) as listed in the above recipe. Set the vegetables and herbs aside. Trim cauliflower by removing outer leaves and thick stem and separate them into some large and some small florets to obtain about 3 to 4 cups. Place 2 cups of water in a pot to boil. Place cauliflower pieces and carrot strips onto a steamer basket and insert the basket in the pot and cover. (Leave other vegetables uncooked.)
Steam the vegetables for only 3 – 4 minutes so that they are blanched but still firm. Quickly, transfer vegetables to a bowl of ice-cold water to stop them from cooking and to cool. Drain the water out and set them aside. Next, make the brine of salted vinegar and water with sugar following the same method as in the recipe above. Set the liquid aside to cool.
Clean 5 pint -size, wide mouth jars. Add a few smashed garlic cloves and a few jalapeno slices in each jar. Arrange the grape leaves and dill weed in the jars as described in the previous recipe. Next, divide the cauliflower pieces in 5 portions and place one portion in each jar. Divide and arrange as many stirps of other vegetables in each jar as possible, leaving some space for the brine. Slowly pour one cup of brine in each jar. Close the jars and place them upside down onto a plate. Allow the jars to stand at room temperature for an hour. Then turn the jars right side up and keep them there for an hour. Refrigerate the pickles. They are ready to be served after 36 hours. If refrigerated after each use, the pickles will keep for 6 to 8 weeks.
1. Grape leaves are added to pickles to keep them crisp, a better option than alum, used for the same purpose. However, for the refrigerator pickles (meant to be consumed within weeks), this ingredient is not necessary.
2. When you finish a jar of pickles, the brine can be used to make a second batch of pickles. These pickles will be less sour and less salty. After the 2nd batch, you need to start a new solution. side up and keep them there for an hour. Refrigerate the pickles. They are ready to be served after 36 hours. If refrigerated after each use, the pickles will keep for 6 to 8 weeks.
3. Watch Shanta’s video tutorial here.