pickled

Pickling Summer: Watermelon Rinds

When September rolls around with its cool mornings, I start looking for ways to bottle up summer – to keep it around a little longer. Watermelon evokes summer; a slice of fruit with the red juice running down your forearms is the perfect dessert after a barbecue. When a friend recently brought pickled watermelon rinds to a party, I knew that the recipe would be another way to extend the season’s flavors (check out basil butter and oven dried sage and lavender).

Buying a whole watermelon is economical (see cocktail and granita), and now the whole fruit including the rind can be utilized. Pickling the rind creates instant gratification, as the pickled rinds are ready to eat in about 12 hours. The ingredients are commonplace items that are usually available in a well-stocked pantry. The process of combining the pickling spices (cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and cinnamon), aromatics (fresh ginger and lemon) with the pickling liquid of sugar-water-vinegar mix requires little effort. Pickling is more of an art form, and the ingredients can be varied according to your preferences. However, the pickling liquid has to be sufficiently acidic with enough of the liquid covering the rinds to prevent any mold growth.

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Serve the pickled rinds as an accompaniment to burgers and hot dogs or as a side dish alongside hummus and olives.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

Watermelon – 4 cups (about half of a medium-sized watermelon)

Water – 4 cups

Vinegar (plain or apple cider vinegar) – 3½ cups

Salt – 1½ tbsp

Sugar – ¾ cup

Whole cloves – 4-5

Peppercorns – 4-5

Whole Allspice – 4-5

Whole cinnamon stick – 1

Ginger – 6-7 slices

Lemon – 1, sliced

  • Cut the red flesh away from the rind, leaving behind just ¼-inch of the flesh close to the rind. Use the fruit to make granita or salad.
  • Peel the hard dark green, striped rind with a good strong peeler. Once the striped green rind has been peeled away and discarded, the paler green rind below is easy to remove. Scrape down until you have 1½-inch layer of the pale green rind left.
  • Cut the peeled rind into smaller cubes or slivers. Keep aside.
  • Boil 3½ cups of water. Add the salt to the boiling water.
  • Add the cut rinds to the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, until the rinds have softened. Remove and drain. Rinse the rinds with fresh water. Place the rinds in a fresh metal pan.
  • Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the vinegar and ½ cup of water until the sugar has dissolved. Heat the mixture.
  • Add cloves, peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon, and lemon and ginger slices. Boil the mixture for about 8 minutes.
  • Pour the vinegar mixture over the watermelon rinds. Place a plate (or weights) on the rinds to keep all of the rinds submerged in the pickling liquid. Cover.
  • Once the mixture has cooled, keep the pan in the refrigerator.
  • The pickled watermelon rinds are ready after 12 hours.
  • Pour the rinds and vinegar solution into a sterilized mason jar to store, making sure the rinds are submerged in the pickling liquid. Pickled watermelon rinds keep in the refrigerator for a week and longer.

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Raclette Grill

I posted several communal food blogs over this past year, and all of the featured meals worked well when friends and family visited. As we all gathered around one pot, the kitchen buzzed with collaborative activity and commotion. Each person took charge of one aspect of assembling the necessary ingredients around the main event. It seemed appropriate to usher in the New Year with a communal meal, working with a familiar theme and a favorite ingredient – cheese.

My niece’s Christmas present, a raclette grill, inspired me to borrow a German New Year’s Eve tradition to usher in 2016. The raclette grill is a combination of a table-top hot plate and small spade-like pans called coupelles. Many more people can hover around a raclette grill than a fondue pot, while melting individual pans of cheese and interspersing them with fondue favorite accompaniments of boiled potatoes, green beans, and pickled onions. Fresh tomatoes and peppers were reintroduced, as they added color and contrasting texture. New additions, such as kielbasa, bratwurst sausages, and shrimp sizzled on the hotplate. Some of us scattered raclette cheese on the accompaniments to set under the grill, while others preferred to slide the melted cheese right off the coupelles on to the dinner plate. Whatever our choices, going into the New Year was remarkably easy.

Best wishes for festive and shared meals in the New Year!

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Cheese Fondue: Communal Food (Part 1)

Many years ago, a casual remark to a new friend about my dislike of the taste of cheese prompted an immediate invitation to a cheese fondue dinner. A Swiss native, my friend simmered Raclette in the fondue pot, and paired it with trimmings of fresh and pickled vegetables, cubes of bread, and spiced meat. This memorable meal made me a cheese convert, and it also highlighted the potential of a fondue dinner as a collaborative meal.

When A. and N. wanted to taste some of the foods they had missed but saw written up in the blog, I thought about that fondue dinner. Fondue is a good example of a communal meal that showcases a variety of different textures and flavors. Pickled pearl onions and balsamic compound butter can be worked in as accompaniments alongside chunky bread pieces and bite-size sausages to scoop or dip into melted raclette cheese. There is plenty of room for innovation and collaboration when many hands are involved. Some of our new favorites included new potatoes brushed with cumin and coriander and crisp black radish drizzled with melted balsamic butter. These side dishes, along with firm red pickled onions, were a perfect textural contrast to the semi-firm cheese.

For the Fondue:

  • Heat 1 lb of Raclette or Gruyere in a ceramic fondue pot or in a pan.
  • When the cheese has a runny consistency, remove from heat and serve.
  • Continue to stir while warm.
  • Add more cheese as needed.

Suggested Accompaniments:

  • Grilled asparagus spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Strips of colorful bell peppers.
  • Green beans drizzled with melted balsamic compound butter.

The beauty of a communal meal lies in the variety of ideas that are presented on the table. I would love to hear about your traditions or thoughts on some of your favorite side dishes.

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In A Soup and In A Pickle – Pearl Onions

When the weather report called for blizzard conditions and snow began to amass on patio tables like coconut icing, I decided that it was a good time to make soup. I’ve learned from past snow shoveling seasons to always keep good stock ready at hand and/ ready to thaw. In previous years as A. and N. would layer up in preparation to begin shoveling, I would start cooking a soup before joining them outside.

A soup recipe for a snowstorm should be as easy as combining and simmering roughly chopped vegetables and herbs with stock. The reward upon returning from shoveling is twofold, a cleared path and the warmth of rejuvenating aromatic soup. Before I head out to shovel, I combine chicken stock and red pearl onions to make onion soup.

Pearl (cocktail) onions are walnut-sized purple or white onions that are innately sweet. Pearl onions cook quickly and retain their shape, making them a good substitute for regular onions in soup. One of my pet peeves with onion soup is that if the onion slices aren’t cooked down and caramelized, they retain a slimy texture – one that you can taste in every bite. Caramelizing onions take time and constant attention. The miniature pearl onions sweat (lose moisture) and brown rapidly. A resultant soup has both a pleasing textural crunch as well as the desired caramelized flavor.

Due to the petite size of pearl onions, you need a large quantity for making the onion soup. Peeling 25 onions comes with the perennial problem – tears. I was happy to come across a clever trick to cope with this arduous task. Place the pearl onions in a bowl and heat them in the microwave for 20-25 seconds. Remove them immediately (or sooner if they start to pop), as you don’t want the onions to cook. Cut off the ends of the onions and pull away the outer skin, which should come off very easily. The pearl onions are now ready to be substituted in the classic French Onion soup, which combines onions and garlic in wine and stock. A deliciously simple soup with lots of flavor!

 

Pearl Onion Soup

Pearl onions – 25, peeled

Butter – 2 tbsp

Olive oil – 3 tbsp

Garlic cloves – 4, peeled and sliced

Stock – 4 cups

White wine – 5 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Bread/cheese

 

  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a pot.
  • Add the whole peeled onions. Lower the heat, and sauté the onions for about 10 minutes. The onions will sweat and brown.
  • Add the garlic. Sauté for a minute
  • Add the stock and wine. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the onions are soft but yet hold their shape.
  • Just before serving, pour the soup into four ramekins. Place a slice of bread with grated cheese (I used goat cheese) on top of the soup. Broil for less than a minute, just until the cheese has melted.

 

 

Pearl onions are sharply vinegary in taste, and served in North Indian restaurants as cocktail onions and (when spiced) in South Indian homes as ulli thiyal, a relish. Alternatively called button onions and Silverskin onions, they are usually pickled and used throughout Europe with spring peas, as part of a smorgasbord of pickled herrings and beets, or as a garnish in the gin and vermouth cocktail, Gibson.

Pickled Pearl Onions

Pearl onions –10-12, peeled

Distilled (or any pale-colored) vinegar – ¼ cup

Sugar – 8 tbsp

Water – 2/3 cup

  • Peel the onions as above.
  • Fill a mason jar with the distilled vinegar, sugar and water. Mix until sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the pearl onions.
  • Cover and keep for 12 hours or overnight. The pickled onions keep fresh for 3-4 days.

 

Gibson Cocktail

Pickled onions are used as garnish in a Gibson cocktail. One or three pickled onions (always in odd numbers) replace olives in a Gibson cocktail, which is a Gin Martini served shaken or stirred. The onions add a vinegary twist instead of briny hint to the traditional mix of gin (6 parts) and vermouth (1 part).

 

Cranberry: A Superfruit

Cranberry, the fall fruit, has much in common with the gooseberry. Both are tart, astringent, and contains phytochemical, a chemical compound that is said to have cancer-fighting properties. When my mother’s friend asked her to drink the juice of Indian gooseberry (amla) to build up her immune system after chemotherapy treatments, every meal thereafter also contained pickled or stewed version of the fruit. Cranberries are  just as versatile. As cranberry glaze, sauce, and bread grace Thanksgiving tables, I decided to experiment with new ways to embrace its tartness over this holiday season.

One of my favorite sweets is the classic English dessert called fool. Traditionally, a fool is made with stewed and pureed gooseberries that are folded into custard. The advantage to making fool is that the fruit and custard can be prepared ahead of time, a smarter and elegant way to end an elaborate meal. Modified versions of fool substitute gooseberries with strawberries or raspberries, and custard with whipped cream or yogurt. My version with cranberries embraces the customary cranberry and orange combination and homemade custard.

Cranberry Fool

Cranberries – ½ lb., washed and drained

Sugar – ¼ cup

Orange – 1, zest and juice

  • Add the cranberries, sugar, zest and juice to a pan.
  • Cook on low for about 10-12 minutes.
  • Puree the fruit when it is cool, setting aside some of the whole cooked berries for decoration.
  • Refrigerate the berries until ready to use.
  • Fold the berries into the custard.

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Pickled cranberries are a great addition to a Thanksgiving meal and can be used as relish. Borrowing some of the pickling ingredients (sesame oil and fenugreek) from Indian cooking, my version of pickled cranberries has a familiar texture of  relish – but with an added kick from mustard and chili spices.

Pickled Cranberries

Sesame oil – 3 tbsp

Cranberries – ½ lb., washed and drained

Mustard powder – ½ tsp

Chili powder – ½ tsp

Fenugreek seeds – ½ tbsp

Curry leaves – 4 (optional)

  • Heat the oil.
  • Add the fenugreek seeds.
  • Once the seeds start to sputter, add the mustard powder, chili powder and curry leaves.
  • Sauté for a few seconds, and then add the cranberries.
  • Cover and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • The cooked cranberries can be eaten immediately or they can be stored for two weeks.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Salt: Refined vs. Unrefined

When I made falooda, I also made mint chutney for pani puri, a customary pairing with falooda and a food cart staple. The tangy flavor in the mint chutney comes from an unusual source: black salt (kala namak). Black salt, mined from lakes in North India and from Himalayan salt mines, has a piquant flavor due to the presence of sulfur compounds. It is this pungency (sulfur has a rotten egg smell and savory taste) that gives many of the South Asian street snacks their inimitable salty and savory taste.

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Salt crystals come in multiple shades (grey, pink, and yellow) and commandeer shelf space in grocery aisles even though dietary guidelines limit our daily intake to 2400mg (about one teaspoon of salt). However, salt is a necessity at a basic cellular level, perhaps explaining our craving!

Black salt, sea salt, rock salt, and even the expensive fleur de sel are unrefined salts. Their unique flavors come from natural impurities found in areas from where they are mined (briny from oceans and seas, earthy from marshes and ponds, or volcanic). Unrefined salt is used for pickling, curing, and seasoning.

Table salt is a refined salt, stripped of all natural impurities. Iodine, which is a needed nutrient, and anti-caking agents are added back to it. Refined salt is used to season food, but cannot be used for pickling (discolors the briny solution) or curing (iodine stains food).

Kosher salt is de rigueur choice in kitchens. The large kosher salt crystals can be shaped to make a food parcel.The baked salt pack seals in the moisture, which  makes for a tender chicken, fish, or new potatoes dish.

Chicken cooked in a Salt Crusted Pack

Kosher salt – 2 ½ cups

Egg whites – 2, beaten

Chicken – 2, skinless legs

Tomato paste – 2 tbsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

Parsley or cilantro – 1 bunch

Parchment paper

Oven temperature 425°F

  • Wash and pat dry the chicken.
  • Mix the salt and egg whites together, until you get a wet sand texture.
  • Mix together the tomato paste and pepper.
  • Place half the salt mixture on a sheet of parchment paper.
  • Cover one side of the chicken with the tomato paste mixture and herbs. Lay it down on the salt mixture.
  • Add the remaining paste on the side facing up.
  • Pack the remaining salt over the chicken, burying it completely in a salt mound.
  • Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the salt has hardened.
  • Remove from the oven. Carefully (I did this so I could use the crust for my second chicken leg) break the hardened salt crust. Brush away any salt that clings to the chicken.
  • The chicken should be moist and cooked.