My Uncle John does two things amazingly well- cooking and tax accounting. In both cases his work is elegant in its efficiency, and full of moves that evoke an astonished stare from me because, in my reality, he has just performed a magic trick. And like a magic trick, when I asked for an explanation, I do not get a precise answer but more of a vague description and hand waving. On more than one occasion I have asked for a recipe and instead of clear instructions have received the equivalent of the directions the competitors on The Great British Baking Show get for the technical challenge – minimal written guidance.
John makes pickled jalapeños that he distributes as Christmas gifts. Equal parts red and green jalapeños combined with thinly sliced white onions all covered in a seasoned vinegar syrup, they are not only seasonally appropriate, but delicious in a way that makes angels sing. Yes, of course they are spicy; they are jalapeños. But not like raw jalapeños; those are just needlessly painful. The recipe is a closely guarded family secret. I could tell you, but then he would have to kill me.
Last fall I cajoled John into teaching me to make these heavenly pickled peppers. It took four people working continuously for 8 hours to complete the process. The prep was long, sweaty, and while totally worth it, not something to be undertaken again casually.
Recently, my produce box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden included a lot of radishes. I sliced one up and included it in my dinner salad. But what to do with the other dozen before they turned to mush? An acupuncturist/ farm girl friend of mine told me to pickle them. Uh, no, I have neither the time nor a canning rig. Refrigerator-pickles, she clarified. And, “Just use what you have in the kitchen.”
Refrigerator-what? Turns out, there is a not entirely different but much easier way to make pickled veggies. Still with the slicing and vinegar dousing, but skipping right over the canning and placing straight in the refrigerator. Disadvantages: Not shelf stable and the pickled vegetables only last about 3 months in the refrigerator. Advantages: Doesn’t heat up the kitchen to intolerable levels and can be done solo in about an hour.
Based on what I had in the kitchen, this is what I made.
Stuff that got chopped and shoved into jars:
5 jalapeños peppers
1 flaming fresno flare chili pepper
1 small head of garlic
1/4 red onion
1 bunch of parsley
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
4 Tbs sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
Slice up the radishes in very thin discs. Chop the peppers into 1/8 inch rings. I like spicy, so I leave the seeds. Peel the garlic but leave it in whole cloves. But that was a purely aesthetic choice. Slice the onion into thin strips. Rough cut the parsley.
For the vinegar bath, mix everything together and heat on the stove until it simmers. This part makes the kitchen a little stinky.
Shove the veggies into canning jars. In this case, I had enough to fill 5-half pint jars. I used half-pint jars because that was what I had in the kitchen. But I could just have easily used fewer, bigger jars. Pour vinegar bath over the veggies. Affix lids, shove in the refrigerator. The hardest part of this was waiting a day to start eating the pickled stuff.
I used plain old, ordinary white vinegar for this project, because it was what I had in the kitchen. I suspect this would be that much yummier if something like apple cider vinegar got involved. But don’t try it with balsamic vinegar- it has way too strong a taste profile and will overwhelm everything else. For salt, I had a moment where I realized my available options were iodized table salt or fancy hand-gathered sea salt infused with oregano, rosemary, thyme, lemon grass, and possibly unicorn tears. At the time I wasn’t sure if iodized salt would monkey up the works, so I opted for the other. I later read that when it comes to refrigerator pickles, either would have done the job. But given the amount of salt, I don’t think the extra herbs made much of a difference in the final product.
In the wide world of traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine is just one tool in the toolbox. But there are other tools like acupuncture and massage. The easiest one for you folks playing along at home to use is nutrition. And just like herbs, fruits, vegetables, grains and meat have been systematically classified and described based on their therapeutic effects. The English language tome covering this is Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, often referred to by practitioners simply as “Pitchford.”
Remember, for my pickled radishes I just put together what I had on hand that I thought would work well together. There was no intent or consideration of therapeutic effect. I was just making it up as I went along. It was only after the jars made it into the refrigerator, I thought to consult my copy of Pitchford to review the medicinal properties of the ingredients I had selected. Here’s what I found:
Cooling, pungent, sweet
Cuts mucus, detoxifies the lungs. Regular use prevents viral infections such as the common cold and influenza
Jalapeño/ chili peppers
Protects the lungs
Promotes circulation and sweating, inhibits common cold and other viruses
Slightly warming, pungent, bitter, salty
Anti-inflammatory (click on the link to the left to read the full scoop on turmeric)
Detoxifies the liver and digestive system, promotes circulation (physical and emotional)
Bear in mind, what I have summarized in this table took about 50 pages of text in Pitchford’s book. I just provide it here to show that quite without intending to do so, I created a pickled veggie medley with anti-viral, lung protective properties. No mystery what was occupying my subconscious that day. Who am I kidding? There’s no mystery what’s been occupying all our thoughts, conscious and subconscious since the middle of March.
Making refrigerator pickles in this loosey-goosey way definitely pushed up against my comfort zone. But the effects was fantastic- crispy, spicy, delish! And since I got five jars out of the exercise, I passed some along to friends and neighbors, so bonus goodwill. I encourage anyone puzzled by what to do with extra fresh produce to consider wandering off the beaten path, pickled or otherwise. Consider this kitchen business just one big experiment.
Full disclosure though; the inclusion of turmeric in the vinegar bath turned the radish slices yellowish, so they look a little like pickled carrots.