A Shared Tradition: Pickled Vegetables

June 15, 2012

In her biweekly column, A Shared TraditionCIA grad and amateur food historian Molly Siegler cruises around the world (and into the depths of her pantry) to explore the versatility of a single food item. 

This week: Molly puckers up to four pickled vegetable preparations from across the globe.

Gingered Beet Pickles
Gingered Beet Pickles (photo by James Ransom)

Molly

I was a late bloomer in the realm of pickles. I think I thought the giant dill pickles encapsulated in their own brining juices and heavy plastic were the only pickles out there. And those were, in my mind, decidedly not cool.

I am now making up for lost time with pickles at every turn -- I sometimes go for a full-on acid wash party intentionally (and happily) à la Amanda Hesser. Even though I love quickly pickled sour cherries and vinegar-saturated mango fingers, we’re sticking to veggies for this round. 

Southern (U.S.)
The pickled relish chow chow has zig-zagged its way across North America, settling in several regions as a tabletop staple.

  • Green tomatoes are firm, faintly sour, and can satisfy the urge to pluck a few fruit off the vine before they’re ready.
  • Mirliton (a.k.a chayote) injects a squash-like Louisiana vibe.
  • It’s hard to imagine anything pickled without mustard seeds.
  • Cider vinegar is a sweet and nuanced pickling agent.

Japanese
Tsukemono, or Japanese pickles, find themselves at nearly every meal. Kyuri Zuke is a cucumber-based version.

  • Japanese cucumbers are thin-skinned, bumpy, and only a couple inches in diameter -- ideal for a quick pickle.
  • Clean and malty rice vinegar is offset by a sprinkling of white sugar.
  • Wakame layers the pickle with chewy, brackish sheets.
  • Soy sauce contributes a salty, low note.
  • Scatter sesame seeds over the pickle just before serving.

Italian
Giardiniera is an adored Italian condiment. Bar La Grassa in Minneapolis greets you at the door with a tiny bowl of their olive oil-drenched version studded with giant white beans. Last time I visited, I ended up heading home with my very own quart (!) of the mixture.

  • Pickled cauliflower manages to retain its toothsome bite and bright white shade.
  • Carrot sticks provide an earthy sweetness that might entice pickle naysayers to have a taste.
  • A few slivers of hot pepper keep things interesting.
  • A drizzling of extra virgin olive oil provides a silky coating -- plus, the combination of oil and brining liquid makes an excellent, instant vinaigrette.

Russian
Dill pickles
are the unequivocal king of the pickle world, and Eastern Europe and Russia hold the crown. 

  • Kirby cucumbers have the classic shape and tell-tale bumps of a dill pickle.
  • Sea salt does all the preservation work here, so be generous.
  • Loads of wispy fresh dill have the sharp, green, caraway-like flavor we have come to expect.
  • Freshly grated horseradish root and garlic cloves contribute pungency and mild heat.

Quick Cucumber and Shiso Pickles Sweet & Spicy Pickled Ramps
Quick Cucumber and Shiso Pickles and Sweet & Spicy Pickled Ramps (photos by Sarah Shatz)

These are just a few of the ways I like to travel by way of pickled vegetables. What other regionally inspired flavors would you use to make this puckering condiment your own? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Do you love a good food theme as much as I do? Tell me what food items or themes you'd like to see featured in this column and your idea could be the subject of an upcoming post!

Like this post? See Molly's previous topic: Pudding.

Molly is a chef and food educator living and cooking in northern Wisconsin. When she's not dreaming up themed menus, she's dishing out other delicious content as the editorial assistant for the Whole Foods Market Cooking program.

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13 Comments Add a Comment
  • Profile

    alexandracooks says: Love both ideas! When I discovered roasted cauliflower, I started eating it by the head in single sittings. I am going to give the next kohlrabi bulb I receive a roast, and the next, a pickling. Love the sauerkraut flavoring idea. Thanks!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Oh good! I would love to hear how both preparations turn out. :)

    about 1 year ago
  • Profile

    alexandracooks says: So many yummy ideas here! Do you have any thoughts about pickled kohlrabi? I am getting them in my CSA, and while I have wanted to love them for all the years I have belonged to a CSA, I still have a hard time finding a good use for them. I usually just thinly slice them on the mandoline and throw them into salads, but I'm wondering if pickling might be a good idea? Not sure. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Fun post!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: I would eat all your kohlrabi for you! I think pickling it would be great -- and because it's a relative of cabbage, it would be fun to play with some sauerkraut flavorings like juniper berries and caraway seeds. I also find that roasting will subdue any untoward flavors. I have coerced many a wary cauliflower eater with that method. Good luck and thanks so much for reading!

    about 1 year ago
  • Missing_avatar

    Jimmy Chews says: I thought I had eaten lots of pickles, looks like I have just begun! yum!

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: What pickle preparation is first on your list to try? Thanks for reading!

    about 1 year ago
  • Black_barbie_doll

    MzTeaze says: These all sound really good. I just had an amazing pickle made with scotch bonnet peppers and new cukes. I should try my hand at canning like I did with my mom as a kid.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Oooo! I love the idea of an extra spicy cucumber pickle. Were the cucumbers sliced or left whole?

    about 1 year ago
  • Black_barbie_doll

    MzTeaze says: They were whole cucumbers. They sliced the scotch bonnets in half. I would LOVE to find a recipe for that!

    about 1 year ago
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: After a quick spin on the internet, I'm coming up empty handed! Looks like we'll have to develop our own recipe. :) Also, if I find one, I'll report back right away.

    about 1 year ago
  • Dsc_0122

    panfusine says: Yes. the mangoes are rubbed in a little sesame oil & packed with coarse sea salt. The liquid from the mangoes oozes out & makes up the brine. Its either eaten straight up like olives or the brine is blended with mustard seeds & toasted chile powder. Here's a link to the recipe. http://food52.com/recipes/17477_pickled_baby_mangoes_in_a_chile_mustard_sauce_vadu_mangai

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Thanks for passing this along! Now I just need to find baby mangoes...

    about 1 year ago
  • Dsc_0122

    panfusine says: Baby mangoes.. In India, The tiny ones that don't make it to the ripened stage on the tree & drop off often end up being pickled in brine with crushed mustard & toasted red chile powder. Its called 'Vadu manga'

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Pickled baby mangoes sound amazing! Do you pickle them whole then eat them sort of like olives?

    about 1 year ago

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