Unlike Rachel Ray (whom I happen to enjoy watching), I am perversely attracted to drawn out, labor-intensive kitchen projects. Case in point: I will happily put aside a few hours to stretch my own strudel dough. I also bake bagels, a process that involves simmering the raw bagels in a water bath laced with malt barley syrup before they go into the oven. As a matter of principle, I stay away from sauces in jars and other convenience foods like boxed muffin mix which violate my sense of culinary fair play and generally taste lousy. But my kitchen principles, like the rest of my life, are shot through with contradictions.
I like to keep a canister of Reddi Wip whipped cream on hand for that impromptu root beer float. I believe that Hellman’s has perfected mayonnaise and I actually prefer it over freshly made. I enjoy a bowl of cold cereal for dinner.
“Quick pickles,” though not exactly a convenience food, employ a variety of time-saving techniques geared toward the impatient cook. Classic kosher dills, for example, can take weeks to mature. Like a fine glass of lager, they rely on fermentation, a biological process carried out by friendly micro-organisms. Different organisms of course are used in different types of fermentation. In beer making, for instance, brewer’s yeast convert sugar into alcohol. The kosher dill, by contrast, is indebted to a strain of lactic-acid-producing bacteria, hence the term lacto-fermentation. Like the alcohol in beer, the lactic acid acts as a preservative. At the same time, it imparts that distinctive bacterial tang found in all fermented foods from sauerkraut to kimchi.
The recipe below, a wonderful use for those endearing Kirbys now in abundance at green markets, gives you a respectable mildly fermented pickle, also known as a half sour, in 4 to 8 hours. The trick here is to cut the cucumbers into spears or sections to hasten the absorption of the pickling brine. In a second break with convention, this recipe also contains a splash of vinegar, an ingredient unknown in traditional Jewish pickling, that adds an extra little tang. This technique can be used for more than just traditional pickles. Try it with our carrot recipe below.
Quick Kosher Dills
12-14 small Kirbys, cut into spears or 2 inch sections
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
1 cup boiling water
1 dried red pepper, crumbled
12 black peppercorns
1 cup ice ¼ cup distilled white vinegar 4 cloves garlic, smashed 1 nice bunch fresh dill
In a large non-reactive bowl, dissolve salt in boiling water. Add the crushed red pepper and peppercorns and let steep a few minutes. Stir in ice and add remaining ingredients. Add enough cold water so that cucumbers are fully submerged, and weigh them down with a plate that is slightly smaller than the bowl. Leave unrefrigerated for 2 – 6 hours to allow fermentation to take its course. When the pickles taste pleasantly sour, transfer bowl to the refrigerator where they will keep for a week in the pickling liquid.
While the Jews of Eastern Europe pickled everything in sight from apples to mushrooms, the one contender they seem to have missed was the carrot, a commonly pickled food here in America and my current summer favorite. In this recipe, vinegar replaces fermentation as the main souring agent. Again, this is the quickie version. It bypasses the laborious process of canning in favor of a hot vinegar bath followed by a cool down in the fridge.
Quick Dilly Carrots
1 bunch carrots cut into slender sticks
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
½ cups water
6 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 small bunch dill, tarragon or cilantro
In a small non-reactive sauce pan, bring vinegar and water to a boil. Stir in salt and sugar. Add carrot sticks. Once mixture has come back to a boil, simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until carrots are slightly tender. Transfer mixture to a non-reactive bowl. Add 1 cup ice cubes, pepper flakes, garlic and herb of choice. Chill in refrigerator and enjoy once cold. The carrots will keep nicely in the refrigerator for one week in the pickling liquid.