Pickle Love

Savory Recipes, Summer • 7 Aug 2008

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In my eyes, there is no food as profoundly romantic as the pickle. Like a good relationship, canning, brining and pickling require a labor of love along with a sprinkling of time and a dash of patience.

Pickles begin their journey with fresh ingredients and over time develop a completely new set of flavors, an entirely new identity. They experience a hyperbolic rebirth: subtly flavored fresh vegetables become boldly tart, intensely sour, sweetly tangy, aromatic, acidy and crisp.

Pickling began as a necessity: a way to preserve foods as preparation for cold, dark, bleak winters. Although pickling has fallen by the wayside as a means of survival, it has become a way to tap into family histories, to serve as a reminder of simpler eras or to simply capture time in a mason jar.

I’m a fan of all pickles: simple bread and butter, garlic dill, pickled watermelon rind, kimchi, tsukemono, pickled eggs. Some pickles require preservation, canning, sterilization; others are fresh and ready to eat fairly instantaneously. I made two very different types of pickles over the course of a weekend, in an attempt to capture summer’s essence in my own set of mason jars.

Southern-style pickled watermelon rind is a process, requiring jar sterilization and a kit and caboodle of appliances, such as a kettle and several pans. Since I made half the recipe, I was able to sterilize one jar at a time in my handy All-Clad asparagus cooker, which comes equipped with a removable basket insert. Ultimately, I filled a gallon jar and a pint jar with watermelon rinds. Pickling rinds requires overnight marination, though worth the effort, as the finished product is mouth-puckeringly sweet-tart.

Since I am a die-hard lover of kimchi, I wanted to try making my own, but ended up straying from an aged version and headed for the fresh cabbage patch. This fresh kimchi requires a beef broth for marination and I had luckily made a batch that morning for our evening dinner, although canned broth would do just fine. After half a day of salting and draining, the cabbage was ready to be whipped into form. I decided to jar the bold and fiery kimchi for aesthetic purposes, although it can be stored in an air-tight container.

Pickled Watermelon Rind
Adapted from Molly O’Neill, NY Times

7 cups 1-inch-cubed watermelon rind, dark green skin and all red flesh removed
1/4 cup kosher salt
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
1 thinly sliced lemon, seeds removed
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice

1. Place the rind in a large bowl and toss with the salt. Cover with 1 quart cold water. Refrigerate overnight.

2. Drain the watermelon. Bring a large kettle 1/4 full of water to a boil and add the rind. Cook until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

3. Return kettle to the stove. Add sugar, vinegar, lemon, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Add the rind and simmer until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.

4. Have ready 3 hot, sterilized pint (2-cup) canning jars and lids. (See pickled peppers for sterilizing instructions.) Gently pack the hot rind into the jars, leaving 1/4inch of space below the lip. Pour enough liquid into the jars to cover the rind. Wipe rims with a clean, damp towel and screw lids on securely but not too tightly.

5. Fill a large kettle fitted with a rack halfway with water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, bring a teapot full of water to a boil. Place the filled jars on the rack (do not let them touch — work in batches if necessary) and pour in boiling water from the teapot until jar tops are covered by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes.

6. Using tongs, remove jars from the kettle. Using potholders, tighten lids. Allow to cool. Store in a cool, dark place.

Yield: 3 pint jars.

Fresh Kimchi
Adapted from Molly O’Neill, NY Times

1 2-pound head Napa cabbage
2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup very thinly sliced sticks of daikon
4 scallions, sliced into long, thin, strips
1 cup leaves and tender stems of watercress
3 tablespoons ground Korean hot-pepper flakes
1 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced.

1. Quarter the cabbage and remove the thick, white core at the base. Halve each quarter. Place the cabbage in a large strainer set inside a large bowl. Toss the cabbage with 2 tablespoons of the salt. Place another large bowl on top of the cabbage and fill it with heavy cans or other weights so that the cabbage is compressed. Set aside to drain for 5 hours.

2. Rinse the cabbage briefly under running water and wrap it in clean tea towels to remove excess water. Cut cabbage into strips and transfer to a large, clean bowl along with the daikon, scallions and watercress.

3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour mixture over the vegetables and toss until well coated. Season with additional salt, if necessary. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: 6 cups.

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