Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Get Yourself Into a Pickle!

One of my favorite things about living in Morocco was the family of sheep and goats that lived under my rooftop quarters. They were noisy as hell and didn't smell great, but there was nothing more satisfying than taking out my food scraps and seeing them happily devour them, without a crumb wasted. That plus the fact that there were no plastic bottles, cans, or packaging meant that my total waste from eating was essentially nil.

These days, I often end up with a situation like the one pictured here. I made a lasagna and salad for dinner, but I didn't need a whole cucumber, zucchini, or carrot to make the meal. So I had these halves left over. I usually try to put them in the refrigerator with the hope that I'll eat them in the next few days but that rarely happens, and I usually end up throwing out rotting, soggy halves of vegetables I really meant to eat but never got around to.

That was, until I found out how to make pickles!

Pickling is easy and fun. You don't need any special equipment, but if you have a chance, pick up a cheap pickling jar like the one shown in the photo above. It's a glass bowl with a heavy glass top that adds pressure to the pickles as they sit in the brine. But more on that later. For this batch of used veggies I decided to make two kinds of pickles. The first batch will be regular vinegar style and so I'll cut the pieces small, along with some very thin strips of ginger for flavor.

This type of pickle brine usually calls for:
1/2 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 teaspoon salt
ginger cut into small strips

But here's my secret if you don't want to bother with all that. Sushi rice vinegar! It has just about the same proportions of sugar and salt as the recipe and it's all already mixed. It works great but you might want to cut it with a little water if you don't like too sour a taste.

Put the cut vegetables in a bowl and, with your hands, rub them with about a tablespoon of salt.

This is part of the magic of making pickles. Getting the water out of the vegetable and replacing it with the yummy stuff.

After rubbing in the salt for about a minute, leave the bowl for 15 minutes... and...

... you'll see that the salt pushes the water out from the veggies. Separate the water and vegetables and it's on to the last step.

Gently squeeze the vegetables with your hands, kind of bruising them so that the vinegar will be able to get into all the nooks and crannies. Then place them in your bowl or pickling jar.

For the best effect you'll need a heavy lid that presses down on the pickles. The weight of the lid will draw even more water out from the vegetables as water is lighter than the vinegar. As I said before a 12 dollar (1300 yen) pickling jar is great, but if you don't have one I'll show you how you can make your own in the following recipe.

Now with the vegetables under a bit of pressure all you need to do is wait at least 24 hours. If you want the pickles to be eaten much later you should cut the veggies into bigger pieces. If you want to eat the next day, keep the size small and thin.

This recipe will give you a really typical "pickle" taste.

This time I decided to make another batch with a spicy chinese flavor.

3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
(or as before just use sushi vinegar for the last three ingredients)
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 small red pepper or red pepper flakes
ginger cut into small strips

Prepare the water, oil, and vinegar mixture.

Just as before you want to bruise the veggies a little by lightly hitting them with the flat side of a knife or something like that.

Mix the vegetables into the vinegar mixture and be sure to coat all the surface area on them.

If you don't have the special pickle jar you can just use two bowls that fit inside each other like this. To get the weight you need for the proper pressure, you can fill the top bowl with water or, like I did here, just put an onion or whatever heavy thing you have laying around in your fridge inside the top bowl.

So here are my two pickles. Regular on the left, and spicy Chinese style on the right. I'll put these in the refrigerator overnight and they should be pretty tasty tomorrow!

The next day, here are the regular style pickles. They really shrunk overnight and are packed with flavor now!

And here are the spicy pickles. Yummy!

Add a bowl of rice and I've made a meal out of what yesterday I was thinking about throwing out because it would probably end up rotting in my refrigerator. It's no substitute for a goat, but making pickles is a simple, tasty way to reduce your waste! Enjoy!


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