a pickled pantry

January 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

I thought I would share some pics from my week of pickling. I have to say it was a bit exhausting and I’m going to have to learn to pace myself a bit with these projects.

I think the biggest highlights were:

1) Kimchi – I never knew how healthy it was and also how easy it is to make.  It was by far the easiest and also the least expensive. It costs about $3 to make kimchi that will last you a few weeks.  I’ll be replacing potato chips with kimchi for a snack!

2) Learning how to carry on a few family traditions with making sauerkraut and also making the pickle recipe my grandparents used to love.

3) Holly helped me find an amazing Korean BBQ place in Aurora that we can now go to when we need our fix. Korean SAE Jong Kwan.

The downsides of the week:

1) I don’t really enjoy canning.  It’s kind of labor intensive and given I’m above 5,000 feet you have to adjust timing which I feel like might cook the veggies too much.  I did like hearing the satisfying “pop” of the cans that let me know at least there were sealed properly.

2) Getting all of the materials you need is a little cumbersome, so I felt like that took more time and money than I would have liked.  I think I need to be more realistic about what I try to accomplish in a week.

I did learn a ton about various cultural and historical aspects of what is a somewhat simple dish.  I also have a newfound respect for Martha Stewart (there, Casey, I said it).  I’m glad that I can move onto other things now!

The sophisticated Japanese Tsukemono

January 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Leave it to the Japanese to turn something as simple as the pickle into an art form.  I suppose they have had a few centuries to master not only the taste but the presentation as well.

I had to do a little more research into this since I wasn’t sure my standard pickling book would lead me in the right direction.  There are so many different varieties of Tsukemono that you can make that involve different methods, supplies and ingredients, so I wanted to make sure to make the right thing.

Luckily my Tokyo-based friend, Go, sent me a great link to a guide for Nukamiso (in English).  Nukamiso is a rice brand based mash in which you ferment just about any kind of small vegetable.  As many families have pickling recipes that get passed down through the generations, the nukamiso fermentation mash itself is passed down and around (much in the same way as bread starter). As you can read in the guide, the author has 4 different kinds as part of his that are 25-50 years old from Kyoto and Tokyo!

There were a few challenges with taking on making a nukamiso mash.  I would have loved to have gotten a bit of starter from someone but in asking around at different restaurants, it doesn’t seem to be a common practice.  I also was unable to obtain the traditional cedar container (pictured above), so instead had to use a Le Creuset pot. This isn’t ideal because it doesn’t breathe.  I’m hoping when I finally get to Japan I’ll be able to find one there!  I guess the FDA is not a big fan of them here.

Finding the ingredients proved a lot easier.  I mad another trip back to the Pacific Mercantile in Denver and Jolie patiently helped me pick out all of the right ingredients (all of which they had).

It will take a few weeks for the nukamiso to be ready for fermenting, but it will be nice to have around, especially in the Summer and Fall with garden vegetables.

In making this I also found a good book on Tsukemono that has a nukamiso recipe as well as other great Japanese pickle recipes.

The dill

January 13, 2011 § 4 Comments

The dill pickle is probably still my favorite and I lean a more towards the sour, vinegar variety than the salt brined deli ones.

I’ve tried out many of the delis in Boulder and haven’t found one that lives up to a NY style deli, but I did make a trip into Denver to Deli Tech today which gets all of its key ingredients from the Carnegie Deli in NYC.  It was a bit of a drive but worth a trip. The atmosphere was more 80s than traditional but the food was pretty good.

It was good inspiration for making some dill pickles.  My grandparents got me started on them early and used to have jars around most of the time that a good friend of theirs would drop by.  Along with homemade sauerkraut that is another tradition I’d like to keep going in my family.  I tracked her down this week and she was nice enough to give me the recipe, so here are Connie Close’s dill pickles:


½ TSP. GARLIC POWDER (i’ll be substituting real garlic)



* i am also putting a jalapeno pepper in a couple of the jars for some heat.

Comfort food, get in my belly

January 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m not sure any region in the country can claim comfort food like the South can.  It’s where I spent my formative years and it’s probably responsible for why I’ll never give up bacon and why my eyes sometimes glaze over when people talk about dieting.

I wouldn’t say there have been a lot of things other regions have necessarily adopted from the South, but I’ve been happy to see that the fried pickle seems to be making its rounds in restaurants around the country. In fact, I’ll be having some tonight over at Oak, a great new restaurant that recently opened in Boulder.

As I like to do with this blog, I thought I’d look into the origin of the fried pickle. According to wikipedia it was popularized by Bernell “Fatman” Austin at the Duchess Drive-In located in Atkins, Arkansas. That sounds about right to me!

Today I’m going to pickle and can another wonderful comfort food from my time in the South, pickled okra. In honor of my friend Adair, a Texan gal who is living the foreign service life in Athens Greece, I found a fun recipe from another prominent Texan, Lady Bird Johnson:

update: Adair has just passed along on FB that in Texas they also have pickled snow cones! I can’t imagine what that must taste like but maybe in the Summer they’re pretty good.  Will have to try it out!

Kimchi: your new daily vitamin

January 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Ok, so this is one area I was going to cheat on the local rule of my blog as I was supposed to be in LA for work, but my meeting got moved, so Boulder it is! What’s the saying? Cheaters never win, winners never cheat?  I did find a couple of good resources locally for Asian food supplies.  In Denver, the Pacific Mercantile turned out to have what I needed and for produce I found fresh Napa cabbage at the Sunflower market (as well as all of my other pickling needs).

Unlike the lackluster campaign behind sauerkraut, the Koreans know a good thing when they have it and treat kimchi like a national treasure. In Seoul they even have a museum dedicated to kimchi to educate visitors about the almost 200 different varieties, from its history to the fermentation process to models of all the different varieties.  They’re so serious about it, that in 1996, they lobbied for an international standard that protected traditional kimchi, the crux of it being that the Japanese version wasn’t really kimchi and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to be called kimchi.

It’s also worth mentioning its health benefits.  Health magazine named it one of the 5 healthiest foods.  I’m thinking seriously about eating this everyday.  It is a high source of fiber, vitamins A, B and C, “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli that aid in digestion.  Many have done studies that indicate it may even prevent the growth of cancer.

I’ll be making a basic kimchi recipe from the Joy of Pickling:

3 T + 1 t. pickling salt
6 cups water
2 lbs. Chinese cabbage (napa cabbage), cored and cut in 2 ” squares
6 scallions, cut in 2 ” lengths and slivered lengthwise
1 1/2 T minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 T minced garlic
2 T Korean ground dried hot pepper
1 t sugar

1) dissolve salt in the water. put the cabbage into a large bowl, crock or nonreactive pot and pour the brine over it. weight the cabbage with a plate. let the bowl stand at room temperature for 12 hours.
2) drain the cabbage, reserving the brine. mix the cabbage with the remaining ingredients, including the remaining 1 t. salt. pack the mixture into a 2 quart jar. cover the cabbage with some of the reserved brine, push a food grade plastic bag into the mouth of the jar and pour the remaining brine into the bag. seal the bag. let the kimchi ferment in a cool place (no higher than 68 degrees F) for 3 to 6 days, until it’s as sour as you like.
3) remove the brine bag and cap the jar tightly. store in fridge where it will keep for months.

update: my friend Holly has let me know there’s a great Korean restaurant in Aurora that we’re going to check out thurs.  Korean BBQ SAE Jong Kwan.  Apparently Aurora is the place for Korean food.

embracing my inner Kraut

January 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

I mentioned in the last post that sauerkraut has been a New Year’s day tradition from my Mom’s side of the family.

I’m going to learn how to make the real stuff and hopefully keep the tradition going, maybe even improving upon it with fresh ingredients.

Sauerkraut, German for “sour herb” or “sour cabbage” is actually a pretty nutritional food as a result of the fermentation it undergoes.  It’s considered to be a great boost to the immune system and was once used by German sailors to prevent scurvy.  British sailors often used lime, hence the origin of the nicknames “Limey” and “Kraut” to distinguish the two. It is thought by many that it is also has cancer fighting properties, is good for digestion and even fights off the avian flu!

During World War I in the US, American sauerkraut makers feared the American public would reject a German name, so many labeled their product as “Liberty Cabbage” (even lamer than “Freedom Fries”).  Kraut became a derogatory word. That environment probably had a lot to do with the fact my grandmother never knew German beyond the nursery rhymes she’d sing to us.  My Mom can even recall being teased as a kid in Pennsylvania for having a German last name.  I’m glad at least some of the food traditions survived.

I wish I had a family recipe that my great grandparents might have made at one point, but I’m going to try a recipe from The Joy of Pickling.  I also invested in a Gartopf fermenting crock pot, since I hope to keep this tradition going in my family.

Sauerkraut with juniper berries
5 lbs. trimmed and cored white head cabbage
3 T. pickling salt (using kosher salt)
1 T. whole juniper berries

1) quarter the cabbage heads and shred thinly (thickness of quarter) with a chef’s knife.
2) Add 3 T salt and 1 T juniper berries and mix thoroughly with your hands.  You can do this in the crock or in a bowl.  Then pack the cabbage in the crock or in gallon jars.  It’s important to use the right materials, so check online for proper containers. After it’s released some of the liquid, tamp it down firmly with your hands.
3) Weight it down so that it is contained in its own brine.  The crock has it’s own weights, or you can use a food grade plastic bag filled with brine to cover it.  You can also cover it with a plate weighted down. Some cover with cabbage leaves, so if the brine gets scummy you can replace them easily. Cover with towel or other cloth and store in cool place (~60 degrees F).
4) Check to see if it is covered in brine after 24 hours. If not, dissolve 1 1/2 T pickling salt in 1 quart water and pour as much as needed to cover.  Check every few days to see if any scum has formed and remove if it has.
5) Start tasting after 2 weeks until it reaches your taste. Will have a pale golden color and tart, full flavor
6) Once it’s ready you can store it in the fridge, freeze it or can it depending on what you want to do with it.

I won’t be able to taste it this week, but hopefully it will turn out well!

Pickles! a tasty winter treat

January 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m hoping this project will be a nice trip down memory lane through my childhood in Pennsylvania to then growing up in the South, to traveling around India and finally to all of the great Asian food I was exposed to living in LA.  The difference is this time I will be making the delicious pickled vegetables.  Pickles are a nice way to break up the monotony of winter and liven the taste buds a bit.

My exposure to pickled vegetables started as a kid where every New Year’s Day we would be subjected to eating sauerkraut, a leftover German tradition on my Mom’s side of the family. I never liked the taste of it but my grandmother sweetened the deal by hiding a new penny in it to bring good luck to whoever dished it onto their plate.  (My sister, Whitney was always the one to fish around for it.)  We’ve resorted to the sauerkraut in jars throughout most of my life, but I’d like to learn to make it fresh.

My grandparents also always had jars of yummy dill pickles around that a friend of theirs would drop by with, the kind of thing that neighbors used to do for each other.  I’ve gotten the recipe and am hoping to keep that tradition going.  My local friends will be getting lots of benefits from this project throughout the year!

In the South, the predominant pickled vegetable I loved was pickled okra, especially the spicier, garlicky kind.  I’ll be cheating a bit as I’ll be working in LA this week and will have a lot better produce at my disposal than what I can find in Boulder this time of year.  This will be the first time I’ll be bringing produce back in my suitcase vs new clothes!

Aside from the traditional American pickled vegetables, some that I’ve enjoyed the most have been those I’ve encountered through travels and living in LA.  While Indian pickles and chutneys aren’t my favorite, they are still worth a try.  I’ll be tasting them but not making them.  Korean kimchi is something I could literally eat everyday.  Japanese Tsukemono is not only delicious but gets the prize for being the most beautiful and colorful as well.  I will be taking full advantage of the amazing Asian grocery stores in LA this week.

While I’m not picking the best time of year to be doing this, who cares, because that’s the beauty of this project – I’m my own boss!

My sister-in-law introduced me to a great book which I’ll be consulting called The Joy of Pickling (not the most original title but hopefully the sentiment holds true).

If anyone has any great family recipes, please pass them along.  I would love to try them out! The plan is to taste at some of LA’s great restaurants this week, gather materials there and then start pickling and canning when I’m back in Boulder.

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