Try as it might, modern agriculture hasn't yet been able to flatten out Mother Nature. There are still seasons in which a certain kind of vegetable peaks and vegetables teeming with life and quality are available at extremely low prices at the markets. This is exactly the time to preserve some of the colorful bounty, and not for economic reasons only - the various pickling processes (fermenting, salting, using hot acid) create a colorful array of bold flavors that cannot be bought on the shelves. PERFECT HOMEMADE PICKLED CUCUMBER It's a sad fact that there are some young people out there that simply don't know how good a real homemade pickle is. It's one of those products you just can't buy at the store. There are two main keys to really good homemade cucumbers that have nothing to do with the industrial stuff. The first one is finding young crunchy cucumbers. There's a detrimental stage at which the cucumber fruit starts developing the watery inner section, which softens the pickle. The best pickles are made from immature fruits. Secondly, it's important to get the salt solution right. Too low, and aerobic bacteria are able to set and float on the surface, spoiling the jar. Too high and the wrong fermenting microbes dominate, producing poor result. More importantly: the pickles will taste extremely salty.
4 1 kilo young cucumbers, very fresh
4 Unrefined sea salt (makes the pickles extra crispy due to calcium and magnesium content) or regular salt
4 5 cloves garlic, whole, peeled (reduce amount for a milder flavor)
4 2 sprigs dill or parsley per 0.5 liter jar
4 1 bay leaf per jar
4 5 allspice peppercorns per jar
1. Pour boiling water into the jars you plan on using and seal to sterilize.
2. Pick any yellow flowers off the cucumbers; they contain enzymes that cause softening. Wash well.
3. Make a brine by stirring in 60-65 gr. (4 Tbsp.) salt into each liter of water.
4. Pour the water out of the jars and let them cool slightly. Pack the cucumbers in the jars, add the herbs and spices and cover completely with brine. Make sure there's no cucumber floating above the brine, as it will spoil.
5. Ferment at room temperature (20ÂºC) for two to three weeks. When done, keep under refrigeration, or in a cool dark place.
SALT FERMENTED MOROCCAN LEMONS
These are great sour-salty taste bombs that develop a sophisticated taste due to the fermenting process. Another way to enhance their appeal is using spices, which have time to really soak into the lemons as they cure and provide a colorful bounce. Using preserved lemons is a cultural thing, and a habit that needs to be acquired if not already part of your home cuisine. Most often, the lemon is ground into a paste which is a wonderfully versatile condiment. It works well to balance very rich meat or poultry dishes, or liven up dense preparations such as humous. Basically, when you're for some zesty sourness, such as in a vinaigrette, try using the preserved lemon paste. Moreover, the lemons and paste are used as a basic flavoring ingredient in many great Mediterranean dishes that might be worth exploring.
About 15 perfect ripe lemons, gently scrubbed and washed (any bruises or discolorations might contaminate the preserve with spoilage germs)
4 Sea salt or large-grain cooking salt
4 Lemon juice, if needed
4 2 tsp. either hot or "sweet" paprika powder
4 4 Tbsp. oil (optional)
1. Pour boiling water into a large pickling jar, filling about 1â„4. Screw the lid on and let it sterilize.
1. Cut the both ends off each lemon, going in about 0.5 deep, and leaving a cut about 1 cm. in diameter.
2. Stand each lemon of one cut side and make a vertical cut through the center, stopping three quarters of the way down. Turn upside down and cut another "3â„4 of the way" vertical cut, at 90Âº to the first one. This way you'll have a whole lemon, but you'll be able to stuff it with salt.
3. Pack the lemons with as much salt as possible.
4. Pour the water out of the jar and firmly pack the lemons into it, compressing them in order to squeeze out the juice. Add some paprika over each layer. When done, the lemons should be covered with juice. If not, add some squeezed juice. For extra protection, cover with a thin layer of oil.
5. Store in a room-temperature place (around 21ÂºC) for a month to six weeks. Once opened, transfer the lemons into small sterilized jars and place under refrigeration, or in a cool dark place.
SPICED PICKLED WATERMELON RIND
It's getting to be prime watermelon season, and I always wonder if there's something productive to do with all that meaty rind. Well, at least some of it can be preserved easily into an unusual sweet-sour-spicy condiment, which can either be given a warm clove-cinnamon twist or an oriental five-spice aroma.
(See Phyllis Glazer's article on watermelons, page 10, for the nutritional benefit of this summer fruit and further ideas - Ed.)
4 1.5 kilos watermelon rind
4 Salt water made out of 3 Tbsp. salt for each 1 liter water
4 1 kilo sugar
4 3 cups either rice wine vinegar, apple vinegar or (for budget reasons) simple 5% distilled vinegar
FOR CINNAMON-CLOVE COMBINATION
4 6 medium cinnamon sticks
4 2 Tbsp. all spice, lightly roasted, whole
4 2 Tbsp. cloves, lightly roasted, whole
4 2 Tbsp. black mustard seeds (optional)
FOR THE ORIENTAL VERSION
4 2 Tbsp. star anise, lightly roasted, whole
4 1 Tbsp. fennel seeds, lightly roasted, whole
4 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds, lightly roasted, whole
4 3 dried chilies, whole
4 1 tsp. cloves
1. Cut the rind into manageable chunks and trim the hard dark green skin. On the inner side, trim any red or pinkish flesh. Cube into large 2-3 cm. cubes, or any other shape of that approximate size. Place in salt water and refrigerate overnight.
2. Drain and rinse. Combine the vinegar, sugar and spices in a medium sauce pan and bring to just under a simmer. Simmer gently until the liquid thickens into a light syrup consistency, about 10 minutes. Let steep for 20 minutes and bring back to just under a simmer.
3. Pack the rind cubes into sterilized jars, and pour the syrup over them while very hot. Make sure the syrup covers the rind completely. Ready to eat in about two days, but make sure you refrigerate the jar once opened.