Asian Pickles at Home, Add Zip to your Asian Menus
How often do you cook a meal that is inspired by the flavors of some part of Asia? India, China, Thailand, Japan, Korea and the many culinary traditions of Asia give us some of the most exciting flavors we know. These are also places with ancient foodways that have perfected the art of preserving and pickling foods. I know that my meal planning is all about hopping around that part of the globe, because I crave my favorite Asian dishes. Until now, I had to look to a different cookbook, or stack of them, to improvise a version of my favorite pickled side dishes to accompany my meals.
Until Now. Asian Pickles at Home: 75 Easy Recipes for Quick, Fermented, and Canned Pickles, by Patricia Tanumihardja, published by Rockridge Press. is a treasure trove of tangy, wildly flavorful pickles from every part of Asia. Don’t be intimidated, most of the pickles in the book are quick and easy, and you can work your way up to full on fermentation. In fact, you might never get there, and still be getting lots of great pickles out of this book.
I spoke to the author, Patricia Tanumihardja, to get the inside scoop on this wide-ranging project. Pat is an authority on the cooking and foodways of Asia, read about her on her website, or follow her on social media for more delicious info. In the waayy back, She posted a recipe from my book, Big Vegan, as part of a blog potluck, and you can link to it here.
The timing couldn’t be better for the book to come out, as Tanumihardja said: “People are very interested in fermentation now, especially because they are all stuck at home, looking for projects to do. It’s also Fall, and people are looking for ways to put up their produce. Everybody wants to eat more vegetables, and pickling makes vegetables more interesting to eat.”
One feature of the book is the “Pickle Passport,” a series of deep-dives into the pickle traditions of 5 highlighted pickle all-stars. Japan, China, India Korea and Southeast Asia each get an illuminating sidebar. There are very helpful ingredient glossary and an equipment list, and a troubleshooting guide, in case things are not looking right in your pickle. For the home preserving enthusiast, the pickles that are appropriate for canning are labeled as such and have instructions for safe, hot water bath canning.
If you are wondering whether this is a big commitment, absolutely not. In fact, the majority of the recipes are for “quick pickles,” which aren’t fermented. ” I’m very impatient, so the bulk of the recipes are quick pickles.” Tanumihardja said, with a chuckle. Those, like the Acar recipe featured here, are made with salt, vinegar, and a short pickling period. There are chutneys and easy condiments, too. But if you are up for fermenting, these recipes will help you get started.
“Fermentation and pickling isn’t hard at all, anyone can do it,” said Tanumihardja, ” and the recipes require varying levels of attentiveness. There’s a learning curve, so you just have to figure your first couple of batches might not be the best.”
These mouthwatering recipes and photos motivated me to start a few pickling projects, and you can count on Tanumihardja for good techniques. “To get started, always find the freshest produce you can find, the best quality, and take it one step at a time.” Start with something basic, like Kimchi, Japanese Fermented Radish, or Chinese Salted Mustard Cabbage pickle. Once you get comfortable, you can move to more complicated ferments.
Tanumihardja wants you to make the recipes your own, once you get the methods down. If you like to break with tradition, there is a chapter on “pickling outside the box,” which consists of Tanumiharja’s creative, unique versions of traditional pickles. “Try my beet-laced Red Vegetable Kimchi, or Apple and Celery Kimchi. I make an Asian Pear and Fennel Pickle that’s really good too.” Don’t stop there, and try Pickled Peanuts, or Pickled Sweet Potatoes, or Honey-Pickled Chickpeas.
” I make kim chi frequently at home, I actually make it milder at home. Anything homemade tastes better. I tell people to follow the recipe to the letter at first, then after you have made it successfully, you can add more flavorings, more garlic, choose how much salt and sugar to add.” Vegans and vegetarians will be able to make recipes that usually contain fish sauce, with soy sauce or salt instead.
TurmerIc-Spiced Pickles | ACAR KUNING
Asian Pickles at Home: 75 Easy Recipes for Quick, Fermented, and Canned Pickles, by Patricia Tanumihardja, published by Rockridge Press. Copyright © 2020 by Callisto Media. All rights reserved.
In Indonesia, acar (pronounced ah-char) is the generic term for pickle and is probably a localized version of Indian achaar. This delicious pickle is literally called yellow pickle(after its turmeric-tinged golden hue) and is often eaten with rice and used as a topping for fried fish in the dish ikan acar kuning. For more information on lemongrass, check out the tip in the Lemongrass Chile Sauce recipe (page 78).
Makes: 1 quart | Prep time: 25 minutes | Cook time: 5 minutes | Curing time: 12 hours
For The Vegetables
1/2 pound seedless cucumbers, like Kirby or Persian, cut into matchsticks (4 small cucumbers)
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (2 medium carrots)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt 1 cup cauliflower florets 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper 4 Thai red chiles, chopped 2 salam leaves (optional, see the ingredient tip)
2 (1/4-inch-thick) slices fresh galangal, bruised (optional, see the ingredient tip)
For The Dressing
1 cup coarsely chopped shallot or red onion
3 candlenuts or macadamia nuts, crushed (optional, see the ingredient tip)
2 garlic cloves
1 plump stalk lemongrass, trimmed and coarsely chopped (or 2 tablespoons thawed frozen ground lemongrass) 1 teaspoon turmeric 1/2 cup water 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
PREP THE VEGETABLES: Toss the cucumbers and carrots with the salt in a colander. Let them sit to drain in the sink while you make the dressing.
MAKE THE DRESSING: Combine the shallots, candlenuts (if using), garlic, and lemongrass in a food processor and whirl until finely chopped to confetti-size bits.
Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat. Swirl in the oil. Add the shallot mixture and turmeric. Stir and cook until the paste turns a few shades darker, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the water, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings if desired. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
PICKLE THE VEGETABLES: When the dressing has cooled, rinse the cucumbers and carrots. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Add them to the skillet with the dressing, along with the cauliflower, green pepper, red pepper, chiles, salam leaves (if using), and galangal (if using). Mix well. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more water if there isn’t enough dressing to lightly coat all the vegetables.
Transfer the pickles to an airtight container. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours to allow the flavors to meld. When ready to serve, remove the salam leaves and galangal. Serve at room temperature with rice or warm over fried fish. This pickle keeps in the refrigerator for 5 days.
INGREDIENT TIP: Salam leaves, galangal, and candlenuts are very typical ingredients used in Indonesian cooking,
yet they may be hard to find, even at Asian markets. The candlenuts act as a thickening agent, so macadamias make
a decent substitute. If available, salam leaves (also called Indian bay leaves) are usually sold dried in clear cellophane
packages. Galangal is available fresh and dried. Soak dried galangal for at least 10 minutes before using in any recipe.
These two ingredients have no close substitutes, so omit them if you can’t find them.