Thursday, October 09, 2008

pickling while Wall Street burns*

When I am brave enough to continue my kitchen audit and spring clean the refrigerator (who knows, today could be the lucky day) I know there is going to be a plethora of jams, chutneys and relishes. The reality is my tastebuds tend to opt for savoury over sweet. As much as I like sweet things, I prefer salt, spice and alliums as a major part of my daily flavour profile. Because of this pickles and other unsweetened preserves never last long in the house.

The Significant Eater is a bit of a pickle-fiend. He has a thing for pickles of the European variety like onions, gherkins, eggs and rollmops but his love of Kimchi is legendary. On the top of my list is a good Indian mango pickle and our new favourite - achard, which hails from Mauritius.

A few weeks ago I spotted a tub of yellow vegetables, at a deli at Vic Market weeks ago and they’ve become a bit of a staple. Traditionally they are eaten with white bread and meat, neither being quite my thing. Instead I have added them as a side to vegetarian curries, smoked fish and the SE has been popping them into his sandwiches.

Pickles should be simple to make so I began searching for recipes, given we are getting through them so fast. Like the achard I bought the standard combination of vegetables seems to be cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and green beans. All recipes I looked at had onion, mustard seeds and garlic to flavour, with chilli, vinegar and turmeric being optional.

The brilliant yellow colour comes from the mustard seed oil, rather than the turmeric. I haven’t used this oil before and only occasionally worked with the seeds themselves. The oil, like the seeds, imparts an earthiness rather than just heat or spice. If you believe everything you read about mustard it could be competing for superfood status. It is reportedly high in the antioxidant selenium (though this depends on the status of the soil it is grown in) like garlic and as a member of the Brassica family has the reputation of being an anti-cancer food like all the rest of the cabbage clan.

For my first batch of Achard dé legumes I was inspired by a recipe from Madeleine Philippe. Here is my variation.

Mauritian pickles

1/4 – 1/2 green cabbage (depending on size), finely sliced
1/4-1/2 cauliflower, broken into small florets
2 carrots, julienned finely
a generous handful green beans (not in season yet so I stuck to my smaller sized hand for this measurement), finely sliced lengthways
180 ml (approx) mustard seed oil
2 tablespoons mustard seeds (I used yellow but the recipe calls for black) next time I’ll use more
6 cloves of garlic, crushed next time I’ll use more
1-2 large brown or white onions, finely sliced
1 large chilli (I used red though some recipes call for green) next time I’ll use more
2-3 tablespoons white vinegar
salt to taste

Sharpen your largest knife, pour a glass of wine, crank up the stereo or have someone around to chat and lend a hand.

Slice your way through the mound of vegetables. Cut as finely has you have the patience for. I separated my veg into 2 big bowls based on denseness and blanching time – the cabbage and beans in one, the cauliflower and carrots in another.

Get a large pot of water boiling.

When you have a rolling boil gently pour in the cauliflower and carrots, once the water comes back to the boil cook for another minute before adding the cabbage and beans. Give them a further minute or two on the boil before straining and cooling in ice water. The vegetables should still have some crunch. Once cooled leave them to strain, as you want to get as much water out as possible.

In a large pot, preferably one with a thick bottom, pour in the mustard oil and add the onion. Cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are transparent. Next add the mustard seeds, garlic and turmeric. Give it another stir. Now combine the chilli and drained vegetables. You may need to add more oil, the idea is to coat them with the yellow fluid but not make them swim.

Now season with salt. While the spices will mature a bit with time the saltiness will stay the same.

Allow the vegetables to cool, and then mix in the vinegar.

Sterilize some wide mouth jars (hot wash in dishwasher, or cleaned by hand with detergent and water, followed by 20 minutes in a low oven).

This test batch filled 3 recycled, 500gm sized jars.

Pack your jars and refrigerate. Try to leave them at least a couple of days before devouring.

Last night we added the pickles as a side dish to a particularly spicy kedgeree. It both boosted the vegetable content of the meal and tempered the heat. It tasted so good that though I was full enough to burst, I still felt bereft that I couldn’t finish my plate.

Today for lunch I topped some rye bread with mayo, avocado, smoked salmon and achard. I see no end in sight for the pickle love-fest in progress in this house at the moment!


Shelf life? If the pickles remain well covered with oil, brine or vinegar, stored in sterilized jars (don’t forget the lids) that seals well and kept in the refrigerated they should last for at least a year. However always use commonsense – look for any signs of mould, sniff and taste cautiously. As we are getting through a jar a week, I’m unlikely to find out just how long they will last.

Pickles are a good way to extend the life of vegetables but always use fresh, good quality produce to begin with.

It is great to use up a glut of seasonal produce.

Almost any vegetables can be blanched and pickled with vinegar or brine and spices.

It means there are vegetables on hand at times when the cupboards are bare or the fresh stuff is scarce.

While most nutritionists will tell you there is Vitamin C in pickles like this, in reality this nutrient is lost from the moment the plant is picked and cooking further depletes the C. However they still have a lot of fibre and trace nutrients.

*Have you noticed how fancy magazines like to feature recipes for jams, pickles and other preserves these days? I expect there will be even more of these as part of a new Depression Era Chic. I know most of our grandmothers would be aghast at buying a kilo or two of fruit or vegetables (often out of season at exorbitant prices) and a few designer jars. Preserving comes out of a tradition of ‘waste not, want not’ using up any excess produce that you have grown yourself to keep you fed during the lean months. If you can’t grow your own, look out for seasonal gluts, farm gate sales and buying in bulk at wholesale markets.

Today’s exploration of mustard seeds is in celebration of Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by the delightful Susan from The Well Seasoned Cook

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Blogger Susan said...

Me, too, with the Indian pickles. Their brisk salt and spices always make my mouth water just to think of them.

Thanks for the great achard recipe for WHB!

2:18 am  
Blogger Christina said...

Very, very yum. Salty, spicy, tangy yum.

I'm so glad spring has sprung for you--we're FINALLY moving into autumn.

2:17 am  
Blogger Dani said...

My tastes lie with the SE's. Euro-pickles rock my world.

7:40 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

I used a dash of mustard oil by accident in a dressing for a pasta salad, it gave it an edge a little like horseradish. It's the mustard that makes this pickle really work I reckon.

Dani - I still can't get my head around trying a pickled egg yet, some things I reckon should only be eaten fresh.

Susan and Christina - thanks for dropping by. Pickles make perfect autumn food :)

11:25 am  
Blogger Kalyn said...

What a delightful post, and the pickles sound wonderful. I haven't seen this type of pickle before, but from the recipe I'm thinking I would definitely like it.

1:51 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks Kalyn - they are different and Mauritian food is not very well known in this part of the world. I'm looking forward to experimenting more with this, trying different seasonal vegetables and adjusting the amount of spices.

8:05 am  

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