Quick & Easy
By Beverly Barbour
Make pickles in the winter
Pickles are really not complicated to make and they're a good way to add your own personal touch to a dish or a meal. Winter pickles include pickled beets, pickled tiny pearl onions (the kind that are found in martinis but also a wonderful surprise in a salad), pickled cabbage like sauerkraut which is usually fermented and aged rather than simply brined, and any other fruit or vegetable that has wandered into the market.
Pickling has been a way of preserving vegetables through the ages in every country. The Italians pickle colorful selections of winter vegetables such as cauliflower, onion, carrot, celery and red pepper (when pickled called pimiento). They then serve it as a first course or appetizer before a meal usually together with sausage.
In Asian "pickles" the word can mean anything from ginger to plum or turnip to daikon (the big Asian radish). The Moroccans preserve lemons to flavor soups, stews and meats. Actually a pickle can be anything preserved with salt and acid (vinegar or lemon juice). Today's vinegars are not all as acetic as they used to be so cooking the jars in a hot water bath is highly recommended.
Tips for pickling fruits and vegetables
1. Blanching: Begin with a hot liquid brine to partially blanch hearty winter vegetables. The brine will break down their tough flesh and allow other flavors and vinegar or lemon to penetrate and help preserve them.
2. Quality: Use only high quality fresh winter fruits and vegetables; inferior produce yields inferior results. Why waste the time and effort if you are not going to be proud of the product?
3. Cleanliness: Keep all food container and tools very, very clean (sterilizing by boiling for 15 minutes is best) and never use your hand to stir or procure pickles from a container. The bacteria introduced by your hand can make pickles turn to mush and the liquid may have a layer of scum on top. Very unappetizing.
4. Acidity: Acid controls bacteria and when vinegar is used in pickle making it should be at least 5 percent acidity.
5. Color: White vinegar has the advantage of not changing the color of the food but many prefer apple cider vinegar (which is brown) for the ripe fruit taste.
6. Salt: Some salt is necessary both for flavor and as a preservative. Kosher salt is an excellent choice. "Iodized" salt can be used but it may cloud the pickling liquid.
7. Spices: Garlic, chile pepper, mustard seed, star anise, dill seed, cumin, tumeric, or whatever else strikes your fancy should be fresh and whole so as not to cloud the brine. For example, if you wish the taste of cinnamon do not use powdered cinnamon but instead choose cinnamon sticks or cinnamon oil.
8. Sterilizing: Arrange jars on their sides in a large flat pan covering one or two units on the range. Add 2 to 3-inches of water to the pan and start timing when the water is boiling. Boil a minimum of 15 minutes and keep jars in the simmering water until each jar has been filled to 1/2-inch from top, mouth wiped clean and lid screwed on tightly.
9. Processing: Set filled jars on a rack* in covered deep kettle, with boiling water to cover tops of jars 1-inch. Boil 30 minutes, counting time from when active boiling resumes. Remove jars carefully, lifting straight up and out of kettle. *If you don't have a rack, cover bottom of pan with jar rings, top side up. Arrange filled jars on the improvised rack and proceed.
Green and Red Pepper Relish
Colorful and delicious as an ingredient in salad dressings, deviled eggs, or served to accompany pork, beef or chicken.
7 1/2 cups chopped, seeded sweet red peppers
Put 8 pint jars on to sterilize. Chop peppers and onions. Combine all ingredients in a kettle; bring to a boil; cook, uncovered 2 minutes. Pour at once into drained, hot, sterile jars being careful to leave 1/2-inch space at top. Carefully wipe mouth of jar, cover with lid and screw ring tightly. Process as above for 30 minutes. Makes 8 pints.
Excellent with Indian food, of course, but delicious in sandwich fillings, deviled eggs, or simply served to accompany pork.
Combine all ingredients in large kettle; simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours or until mixture is thick and dark. Pour while simmering into hot, sterilized jars; seal at once. Makes about 6 pints.
Preserved lemons are a necessity in making North African food. They are a delicious addition to salad, chicken and olive dishes. Green olives are often packed into jars with wedges of preserved lemons which makes them absolutely delicious.
2 ripe lemons
Scrub lemons and dry well. Cut each into 8 wedges. Toss them with the salt and place in a l/2-pint glass jar with glass or plastic-coated lid. Pour in the lemon juice. Close the jar tightly and let the lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. If a white lacy growth appears in your pickling jar as the lemons mature, don't worry about it. Just discard the lace when you open the jar and rinse the lemons before use. To store, add olive oil to cover and refrigerate for up to 6 months. Rinse lemons before using.
Get yourself in a pickle before spring woos you away!