The first time we traveled to Southeast Asia, I completely missed a very important thing about the cuisine.
It’s all about the condiments.
I saw the little bowls of peppers, relishes, chutneys and sauces on our table and I tried one here and there, but it wasn’t until we returned and I researched recipes further that I realized I should have been much more adventurous! Now, I can make a complete meal out of the condiments alone. Sweet, spicy, tangy, pickled, fermented – you name it and I want it.
I’ve become that annoying person at the dinner table who asks a million question of the server. What is that? How is it made? What’s in it? I’ll take any little piece of information I can grab to help me find a recipe so I can make it at home later, or at least attempt to. I always feel a little intimidated because it never seems to turn out just right. But that’s probably because I haven’t really had a reliable resource for recipes. Until now.
This is one of those cookbook reviews where I’m going to quickly cut to the chase. You need Asian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salt, Cured and Fermented Preserves by Karen Solomon in your life. It is overflowing with recipes that feature sauces, pickles and other condiments from Japan, Korea, China, India and Southeast Asia.
I honestly can’t stop flipping through it, marveling over the photographs and the recipes. It will likely be the one cookbook on my shelf from which I make almost every one of the recipes. Fresh Turmeric and Ginger Chutney, Chile-Black Bean Oil, Hot Pickled Pineapple and Peanuts, the list goes on and on…and on.
And one of the best parts for me is that all the recipes are in small batches of about 4 cups. So it’s just enough to serve to a few guests and not too much if you plan to eat it yourself over a week or so.
I happened to have both Persian cucumbers and carrots in when I got the book so the Javanese Carrot and Cucumber Pickle (Acar Timun) was the perfect thing to try.
Before I go on with the recipe, let’s discuss my knife skills. Don’t judge. The recipe calls for the veggies to be julienned. I have taken knife skills courses, read books and practiced my little heart out, but my knife cuts will always be imperfect. So, in case yours are too, no big deal. Cutting the veggies into sticks or strips is all you need for this recipe to turn out delicious. And if you are an knife master, yours will be gorgeous as well tasty.
Either way, these vegetables are outstanding. I’ve been eating them straight from the jar and the other night we chopped them up and used them as a topping for homemade nachos. So good! My jar is gone, after only a few days. Now I have the tough decision of remaking this recipe or moving on to the next. A dilemma that I have a feeling I will be presented with after trying every recipe in the book.
JAVANESE CARROT AND CUCUMBER PICKLE (ACAR TIMUN)
Reprinted with permission from Asian Pickles by Karen Solomon, copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2014 by Jennifer Martine
• TIME: 1 DAY • MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS •
This pickle is also eaten in Malaysia and Singapore, and its wide\ appeal is easy to understand. It is pretty to look at, and it has a nice bite from shallots, a sweet edge, a light touch of vinegar, and a mild jab of chile. It’s a simple pickle that’s a must-eat with shrimp crackers or fried fritters of any kind, and it’s the quintessential pickle of national dishes nasi goreng and mie goreng. Feel free to eat this as is or to top with a sprinkling of ground macadamia nuts before serving.
7 ounces carrots
9 ounces Persian cucumbers
11⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
3⁄4 cup distilled white vinegar
11⁄2 cups water
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 large shallots, thinly sliced into rings
1 large jalapeño chile, stemmed and thinly sliced into rings
Trim and discard the ends from the carrots and cucumbers, julienne them, and put them in a bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and toss to evenly distribute the salt. Let them sit for 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until they have sweated out some of their liquid.
Thinly slice the shallots and jalapeño into rings and set aside. Drain the carrots and cucumbers and, grabbing a small handful at a time, squeeze them very, very firmly until no more liquid comes out of them. Transfer to a medium bowl.
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to help dissolve the sugar.
Add the shallots and jalapeño to the carrots and cucumbers, pour in the boiling brine, and let sit on the countertop to cool completely, about 2 hours. Transfer to a glass or ceramic container (plastic will retain its aroma) and refrigerate. The pickle is ready to eat the next day, and it will keep for at least 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
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