10 July 2012

In a Pickle (Salad)

Article & Pictures by Elizabeth Miller

Pickling is trendy. I know this. I am often driven to bouts of incredulous wonder over what becomes trendy in the world of food, since most trends seem sort of untenable in my mind. I can’t understand why people really want to pay $3 to $4 for a single cupcake when you can basically make an entire cake at home for the same price. I don’t understand why the general population is losing their minds over kale, since, you know, it’s just kale. It’s a nice, leafy green vegetable, but I don’t get a feeling of intense, superhero-caliber strength or feeling of wellness when I eat it. How did kale happen to get all the love and not, say, spinach or chard? Pie almost caught on as a trend, but its campaign seemed to lose a bit of steam before it gained its final push into the limelight. I would have been all right with pie as a trend, since I love pie more than I love most humans, but I am certain that my fondness for said trend would have soured the moment I spotted shops charging $35 for a single pie. Pickling, however, has taken on a trendiness that is a bit easier to understand, since its popularity is rooted in the achievement of doing one’s own pickling at home. So, it’s not just pickled things that are popular, it’s pickling things. I am all right with this.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have long been a fan of things that are pickled. Briny olives, giardiniera, any type of relish—these are all my friends. What I tend to prefer in the world of pickling, however, are crisp vegetables that have been quick pickled, or cold pickled. Quick pickling protects vegetables from the wilting that can occur when pickling things in the traditional way that involves a bath of hot vinegar. The vegetables retain their crunch and color, and make for a more pleasant nibbling experience, I have found. Also, cold pickling takes a lot less time, which means you can eat your newly pickled vegetables much, much sooner than if you were hot pickling them and, let’s face it, that probably explains my preference for cold pickling right there: the less time between making and eating the pickles, the better.

One of my favorite uses for quick pickles is using them to punch up a salad. In this case, I have taken that idea one step further and simply composed an entire salad around the pickled vegetables. The process could not be simpler: a cold bath of vinegar and Indian spices envelops gorgeous, thin ribbons of vegetables that are left to rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. What emerges is a pile of crunchy, spicy, intensely flavorful vegetables that get piled high onto a plate and sprinkled with some fresh cilantro leaves, resulting in a salad that is as lovely to look at as it is enjoyable to eat. And eat it I did, which makes me wonder if eating all those pickled vegetables will have any effect on my own preservation. If so, I am fairly certain that, based on my pickled vegetable consumption and barring any unforeseen tragedies, I am going to live forever.

Indian Pickled Vegetable Salad

6 to 8 medium carrots, multicolored if possible, peeled into thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler

1 large cucumber, peeled into thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler

¼ of a small red onion, sliced into very thin strips

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup white vinegar

2 cups cold water

12 thin slices of fresh ginger, each about 2 inches long

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced into thin strips, seeds added if you wish to make your salad a little more on the spicy side

cilantro, for sprinkling

In a large bowl, combine carrot, cucumber, and onion. Set aside.

In a small skillet, combine cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Toast them over high heat until the mustard seeds just begin to pop, about 30 to 60 seconds. Remove seeds to a plate to cool.

While the seeds are cooling, combine salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the vinegar and cold water, and whisk until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Stir in the ginger, jalapeno, and cooled seeds.

Pour the liquid mixture over the ribboned vegetables, then toss to coat everything as much as possible. Press the vegetables down into the pickling liquid to try and submerge as much of the vegetables as possible.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, tossing the vegetables every 30 minutes or so to full coat them. The longer you let the salad sit, the more flavorful it will become.

To serve the salad, drain the vegetables of their brine, and pick out any stray slices of ginger. Sprinkle over a handful of fresh cilantro leaves.

Serves 6-8 people as a side dish.