First and foremost on this little exploration into pickles and pickling, we need to establish that pickles are not limited to cucumbers. In fact, to do so, we would be committing a culinary injustice of grave proportions. While we are opening up the world of pickles, let us also trash the notion that pickles are merely some sort of condiment to order a veggie burger with or without, or that they are merely some sort of afterthought garnish thrown on the rim of a plate. It’s time to respect the pickle. We will be recognizing pickles as a wondrous dishes all their own. We will be layering flavors, ingredients and theories to come up with a quick and easy guide for getting you pickling and enjoying a fresh, vibrant new world of old-world cooking. Yes, it’s just pickles, and yes, that’s exciting.
Here’s how you start:
Methodology: Fermentation vs. Pickling
All those delicious gherkins, sauerkrauts and so on are created either via fermentation or pickling, or technically both. Here’s what that means: Pickled items are preserved using an acidic base, like vinegar, while fermented treats are conserved in a water and salt solution, or brine, in which they create their own acid, confusingly called lactic acid. So, in essence, the fermented veggies we eat are both fermented and pickled in their own acids, whereas, when we have something soaked in vinegar, it is just pickled.
Both methods can be beneficial to your health. Fermented veggies provide us with probiotics that our bodies need for digestion and bio-diversity. Essentially, probiotic bacteria feed our insides in a good way. Vinegar, on the other hand, is proven to provide beneficial antioxidants. It improves blood sugar levels, helps with heart health, and reduces the risk of some cancers. What happens, however, with most pre-packaged, store-bought pickles are that much of the benefits are lost to the heat and pressure used in the processing. So, it‘s worth make both fermented and pickled veggies at home.
What to Pickle
The easy answer to what to pickle is nearly everything. Generally, crunchy, watery vegetables are good start, stuff like cucumbers, beets, onions and cabbage. But, don’t stop there: beans, peppers, okra, tomatoes, carrots and cauliflower are all downhome pickle classics. As well, fruits are not unheard of as pickle worthy, and pickling the rinds of citrus and watermelon is also fairly common for enthusiasts. The point is that lots of stuff does well with this sort of preparation, so it’s worth experimenting with everything and, especially, to combine common companions.
Playing with Flavors
Just like pickles don’t pare down to cucumbers, pickle flavors aren’t simply summed up with dill and sweet. In fact, usually even the blandest of supermarkets will have some flavor variations from the status quo jar of pickles, especially with garlic and spices. Classic flavors include all spice, mustard seeds, coriander and clove, to name but a few, and there are even homemade pickling spice recipes available. But, once confident with the process, a pickler’s possibilities are endless. There is a place for any herb or spice somewhere: Check out Mexican Pickled Tomatillos,
The Easy How-To Of It
A search for pickle recipes will provide the step-by-step of whatever is on the menu; however, for the sake of summing this thing up, the basic quick-pickling process is to fill up a container, usually a jar, with the fruit and/or veggies, layer them with herbs and spices, and ultimately, fill the container with either vinegar or prepared brine (salt and possibly sugar heated and dissolved in water). Wait. For vinegars, the flavor gets stronger as time passes, but a good general rule is three days in the fridge is enough to start munching and then eat them within a month. For brines, it takes a little longer, maybe a month at room temperature, because you are waiting on the bacteria to do its thing before going in the refrigerator. Of course, canning is a possibility, extending the life or homemade pickles to about a year, but who wants to keep them in the cupboard!
And that’s that. Now, you can feel free to join the revolution. Pickle something today and start snacking soon.
Image Source: Mike/Flickr