A couple of weeks ago, I went to a seminar entitled, “Yes We Can (and Pickle).” In addition to the fairly funny title, the event, put on by Avodah and AJWS, was devoted to food awareness. One of the workshops I went to was, not surprisingly, about pickling. I did not realize how much I didn’t know.
So let’s start with the basis. Pickling is a process used to preserve foods, such a cucumbers, by removing “bad” bacteria that rot food. It has been used for centuries to preserve food reaped in the warm months (before the times of refrigerators). Most cultures have their own variety using different food (kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut, for example). Many pickles are made via “quick fermenting,” during which vinegar is added. The vinegar kills all the bacteria. However, there are good bacteria, which aid in the digestion process, making them preferable to keep. The better way, in my humble opinion, is to use just water and salt, which accomplishes the same thing. Here, the yeast in the air ferments the sugars and kills off only the “bad bacteria,” leaving the good stuff
I spent last week in New York City. New York is known for many things, but pizza and delis are for sure on the top of the list. I definitely did not leave being deprived in either category. But when I was walking in the streets, I was reminded also of the pickle’s Lower East Side historical roots, as I was found stands with dozens of different types of pickles. Possibly a hallmark of Jewish delis, the kosher dill arose during the 1800s. Everyone around the U.S. knows the kosher dill, and I have even seen them in supermarkets in the deep South. Today, ironically, kosher dills are not necessarily kosher, but rather only refer to the particular recipe with the generous amount of garlic in the brine, though the historical name still remains.
So why bother pickling? Here are three reasons: (1) It is really fun – it’s sort of like a science experiment. (2) They are tasty. (3) The bacteria in fermented pickles (ie, not the ones with vinegar) have probiotics, which are good for you.
So here’s the recipe…
Well, I am not going to give you a recipe, per se. It is so easy, and there is so much creativity that can go into it, I don’t want to restrict you. But here are a few basics that you’ll need.
- a good container, preferably one with straight sides, though anything will do
- whatever you are fermenting
- sea salt (don’t cut corners and use other salts)
- Cut the veggie into whatever size and shape you like. The larger the pieces, the crunchier they will be.
- Place all of it in a bowl, and salt. Taste a bit and see how it is. The salting will bring out the water, which is critical.
- In about 1 inch layers, start packing the veggie into the container, using your fist to really get it in there. Make sure to include all of the water at the bottom of the bowl.
- Do this for about half of it, and then wait a few minutes. The salt will begin to draw out the water, making it denser.
- Repeat steps 1-4 until complete.
- Wait about 12 hours. If not all of the veggies are below water, add a little bit of salt water.
- Place something over the container, to ensure that everything stays below water (critical step). Do not place a lid or anything like that on top though.
- In 7 days, taste. If you like it, put it in the frig, which will stop the fermenting process. If not sour enough, let it go some more… There is a decent chance that the top of the ferment will start to rot because it is exposed to the air (you will see a sharp change in color). This is fine, but just be sure to discard this before you start eating.
Now, just using salt water is a bit boring. I suggest that you add a bit of flavoring. This can be added a little bit at a time, after each layer that you do. Here are some ideas:
- Cabbage (sauerkraut) – onions, chili, caraway seed, garlic, peppercorns, allspice berries, cloves, anise
- Cucumbers – garlic, onions, allspice, dill, rosemary, mustard, ginger, anise, coriander seeds
- Beets – (beets need to be cooked prior to pickling) cinnamon, allspice, herbs, nutmeg, chilis, cloves
- Other veggies… mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes, or anything else that you can eat raw