SEEMA’s guide to keep your taste buds in a ferment!
There are many reasons to love pickles. They’re super delicious (albeit an acquired taste), make excellent mixers, and add an enlivening tang to salads and sandwiches. You can even drink the brine straight out of the bottle; it’s full of immune-boosting good bacteria that will keep your gut biome thriving.
The best part is that pickling is relatively straightforward and can be as tedious or easy as you like. The pickle in the recipe below takes under twenty minutes of prep and a couple of days to ferment. It can then be refrigerated or left to age further. Pickles, like wine, taste better the older they are.
Pickles have three main elements— the vegetables (or fruits), the flavor, and the brine.
The quality of all three makes all the difference in the taste and appearance of the pickle.
For the vegetables, choose unbruised and crisp produce fresh from the farmer’s market.
The brine is a mixture of salt, vinegar, a wee bit of sugar, and water. Use boiled or filtered water. Vinegar can be of any type but avoid aged or concentrated kinds of vinegar like balsamic or malt.
Use non-iodized salt. You get special pickling salt at stores, but kosher salt and pure sea salt also work. The salt must be free of impurities; otherwise, the result can look quite unappetizing.
After the basics, flavoring is an adventure. Dill is a common and essential pickling spice, but you can experiment a little here with almost anything that you use to flavor food in general.
- Fresh/dried herbs: dill, thyme, oregano, coriander and rosemary
- Fresh, peeled and sliced ginger or garlic, smashed or sliced
- Whole spices from any South Asian tadka: mustard seeds, peppercorns, chillis, etc
The following recipe provides some exciting flavor mixes that appeal to an Asian palette.
Another essential aspect of pickling is the addition of tannins. Tannins are astringent, naturally occurring phenol compounds that keep the vegetables in the pickle crunchy and crisp. Without them, they can turn to mush.
Tannins can come from loose (or bagged) tea leaves, a couple of bay leaves, or grape leaves for a Mediterranean twist. Other alternatives include horseradish leaves and oak leaves.
As you get experience, you can play around with the ingredients and process, but bear in mind that pickling is a science. It requires accurately measured ingredients and completely clean and dry jars. The slightest error can spoil the whole thing.
Here’s how you can sterilize the jars:
- Wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water.
- Put them into the oven at 110°C (230°F) for about 10-15 minutes or until they are dry.
- Take them out of the oven and allow them to cool.
- In the meantime, boil the lids in a pot of water for about 5 minutes.
- Take them out and allow them to air dry on a rack or wipe with a clean towel.
Now that we’re good with the basics let’s get down to a simple recipe.
Manhattan Style Dill Pickle
(1/2 gallon jar, 20 minutes prep and 3-5 days ferment)
Clip source: Homemade Dill Pickles! | Feasting At Home
- 2 to 2 1/2 lbs pickling cucumber, all similar sizes. Choose fresh, crisp, bumpy, and unbruised ones. (<5 inches)
- 5 cups filtered water
- 2 tbsp fine sea salt or Himalayan salt (around 7g fine sea salt per one cup of water, for a 3% brine).
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
- 1 tsp each: fennel seeds, coriander seeds, allspice, peppercorns, dill seeds, mustard seeds, celery seeds. This is your flavoring.
- 10–12 garlic cloves, sliced (or measured with your heart)
- 1/2 thinly sliced onion (optional)
- A big handful of fresh dill
- 1-3 fresh red chilies or equivalent chili flakes (also optional)
- 3-4 bay leaves (or a grape leaf or oakleaf)
- Rinse the cucumbers, remove flower ends and place in an ice-water bath, for about 10-20 minutes. Leave them whole.
- Mix salt and 5 cups of water until dissolved. Add the turmeric if you like.
- In a large, clean mason jar, place all the whole spices into the bottom. Pack one layer of cucumbers tightly, standing tall, then add garlic and onions (if using), fresh dill sprigs, chilies, and bay leaves. Add another layer of cucumbers, standing on end.
- Press everything down in the jar, leaving an inch of headroom. Pour the salt water brine over the top and weigh down the cucumbers with fermentation weights so they are submerged under the brine, leaving an inch of headroom, in the jar. If you don’t have fermentation weights, you can use mini jelly jars, condiment dishes or small dessert ramekins that fit inside the mouth of the mason jar.
- Cover the jar loosely with a lid or with a cloth so air can escape.
- The pickle should be ready in about 5 days, but can be fermented longer for a tangier taste.