Cost-Buster Cooking by Ellen Brown on pickling

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Pickles are not synonymous with cucumbers, even though we see barrels worth of green spears and slices on supermarket shelves. Almost all vegetables and even some fruits can be pickled, a method of food preservation dating back to the ancient Mesopotamians.

With late summer produce at its peak, it costs far less than you would spend on a bottle of wine to take some homemade pickles to your Labor Day cookout. And all will appreciate the results of the minimal time and effort required to make them.

Our word pickle comes from the Dutch word pekel, which means brine. But the Dutch hardly have a monopoly on this category of tangy treats. Pickles hold a place in just about every cuisine. They range from fiery Korean kimchi (made from cabbage) and Mexican pickled jalepeños served with just about everything, to more specific pairings like Japanese pickled ginger with sushi and tiny French cornichon with pâtes and terrines.

The combination of vinegar, sugar and salt is the common denominator of the pickling process, called brining. While in Grandma’s day pickles were “put up” in sterile glass jars to be enjoyed all year, there’s no reason to go to that length. They can be quickly brined by cooking them, and then enjoyed from the refrigerator for two weeks, which is far longer than if the vegetables had not been pickled.

Some scientists also believe that pickling makes vegetables more nutritious as well as prolonging their life. Salting draws some of the water out of the food, which concentrates the fat-soluble vitamins. A Korean study showed that kimchi had twice the concentration of B vitamins as unfermented cabbage.

But I’m not advocating homemade pickles as a road to health. They’re just so darned good that once you see how easy and inexpensive they are to make you’ll keep some around always.

Cost-Buster Cooking Tips

Frequently, recipes call for kosher salt or sea salt. The reason is that these two very similar products do not contain iodine or anti-caking agents. While in general you can substitute table salt, that is not the case when making pickles. The iodine and anti-caking agents can turn vegetables an unappealing color, and the pickling liquid will be cloudy instead of clear. You can buy big bags of pickling salt online, but kosher salt and coarse sea salt are widely available.

Both kosher salt and coarse sea salt have larger crystals than table salt, so if a recipe calls for them and you’re going to use table salt, cut the quantity in half.

Be careful in the vinegar aisle when buying rice wine vinegar; some of the bottles are already seasoned and they’re frequently called “sushi vinegar.” For all cooking you want unseasoned rice wine vinegar.

When cooking with any acid, like vinegar, citrus juices, or wine, you should never use an aluminum pan. The term you’ll see in some recipes is “non-reactive.” What this means is that it’s made from stainless steel, enameled iron, or some other metal that will not give food a metallic taste.

Ellen Brown, founding food editor of USA Today, is the author of 30 cookbooks, including the $3 Meals series. She lives in Providence. E-mail her at cost.buster.cooking@gmail.com.

 

Recipe: Red Onion Pickles1

Red Onion Pickles

2 pounds small red onions

5 garlic cloves, halved

1 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

Peel the onions, cut them in half, and then slice each half into 1/2-inch rings. Set aside.

Combine the garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt and chili flakes in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes.

Add the onions and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes over medium heat, or until the onions soften. Transfer the onions and liquid to a storage container and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks and serve chilled.

Makes 1 quart.

Recipe: Gingered Carrot Pickles1

Gingered Carrot Pickles

1 pound thick carrots, peeled

1/4 cup julienne fresh ginger

3 small jalapeño or serrano chilies, seeds and ribs removed, and sliced

1 1/2 cups rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Cut carrots on the diagonal into slices 1/4-inch thick. Set aside.

Combine the ginger, chilies, vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the carrots and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until carrots are crisp-tender. Transfer the carrots and liquid to a storage container and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, and serve chilled.

Makes 1 quart.

Variation: Substitute parsnips for the carrots.

Recipe: Bread and Butter Pickles with Onions1

Bread and Butter Pickles with Onions

1 1/4 pounds Kirby cucumbers, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices

1 large sweet onion, like Vidalia or Bermuda, halved and cut into 1/2-inch slices

1/3 cup kosher salt or coarse sea salt

1 cup cider vinegar

2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon celery seeds

Combine the cucumber and onion slices in a mixing bowl, and toss with the salt. Add 2 cups of ice cubes to the mixing bowl, and set aside for 2 hours, tossing the vegetables occasionally as they soak. Drain the vegetables, rinse them well under cold running water, and then drain them again.

Combine the vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and celery seeds with 1 cup water in saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add the drained vegetables to the pan, and bring the liquid back to a boil.

Transfer the vegetables and liquid to a storage container and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, and serve chilled.

Makes 1 quart.

Variation: Substitute zucchini for the cucumbers. If the zucchini are thicker than 2 inches in diameter, cut them lengthwise before cutting them across.

source:  projo.com

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