a year in pickles: pickle recipe index

If there’s any specialty of this blog, it’s not gardening or sustainability or Northwest politics or seasonal cooking or local cheerleading or events or complaining a lot.  It’s pickles.  We’re not quite at that magic time of the year in Oregon yet, but I see from the hits on my blog that other places in the country have hit pickling time with a vengeance.

Suffice it to say, I always have pickles on hand, and I spend the whole year pickling.

Throughout summer and late into the fall, I put up crocks and crocks of red and white sauerkraut.  Some of the sauerkraut I can and give as gifts, and other jars I leave fresh in the refrigerator, where they last for months.

Also for winter eating, I make crocks and jars of fermented and vinegar dill pickles with giant bags of perfectly sized cucumbers I buy at a local farm and my own horseradish or grape leaves, plus full heads of garlic. I make dill relish every other year.  The fermented dill pickles have delicious juice that I use all year ’round in potato salads, as a marinade for salmon, and to deglaze pan-roasted fish or shrimp.

In autumn, I restock my tomatoes, salsa, and ketchup supplies. As it gets colder, I turn the rest of the green tomatoes into pickles or salsa.  I used to use all my sweet and hot peppers to make the pepper-eggplant spread ajvar (for freezing) but my new tradition is to put up a few half-gallon jars of hot peppers to ferment and make hot sauce after many months of fermentation.

In winter, when I see the citrus fruits at their best, I make a couple of jars of salt-preserved lemons and lemon zest vinegar (to use in a pinch when I’m out of fresh lemons), and, occasionally, marmalade.  I turn a 5-lb. bag of local dried Fellenberg or Brooks prunes into pickled prunes, to eat with winter roasts. I stew some of the sauerkraut in Pinot Gris (and save the Riesling for drinking — life’s too short to waste good Riesling) and eat it with kielbasa and other smoked meats.  If I remember, I corn a brisket for St. Patty’s day in March.  I make mustard and horseradish relish from my horseradish plant’s roots.

As soon as the spring produce starts coming in, I make refrigerator pickles: salted savoy cabbage, cucumber quick pickles, chard stem pickles.  Flavored vinegar-making also begins in spring with the little purple pompom chive blossoms and tarragon, then ends with wild blackberries, Concord grapes, and cranberries in the fall.  Starting in May, I put up the requisite asparagus pickles and dilly beans; I love giving the jars of slender, perfectly straight crisp vegetable crunchies as hostess gifts for parties throughout the year.  Cauliflower pickles are a standby, as well — the purple cauliflower makes a vibrant magenta pickle.  Each time I make a vinegar brine for canning pickles, I do a double batch, then use the excess brine for refrigerator pickles made of whatever is on hand: baby turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts…

It’s hard to believe, but we eat them all.

Here are my pickle recipes, indexed, if you’d like to try some or all of these ideas!  All of the canned pickles are produced using tested, safe recipes that are approved by the Master Food Preserver program, with which I’m a certified volunteer. The fermentation recipes are not USDA-approved, but I have made them all many times.

how not sweet! pumpkin soup for the rest of us

I’m particularly proud of this creation, a squash soup made with one of our giant heirloom ‘Oregon Homestead Sweetmeat’ squashes, onions and leeks, and celery leaves.  I was seeking a way to make pumpkin soup without the sweet flavors that always dominate.  I wanted a hint of sweetness and more body than just fiber.  That usually means UMAMI, the battle cry of the meat eater.

Umami is, as we’re probably all well aware by now, the “meaty” fifth taste, alongside its frat brothers, sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.  Think mushrooms, nuts, soy sauce, cheese.  Sauteed onions, too, add some umami to a dish.

The garnishes keep the soup fascinating, another risk one runs with monotone squash soup.  I roasted the squash seeds after only a quick rinse to retain some of the squash fibers clinging to the seeds for more flavor.  Topped with black pepper, truffle salt, and a bit of argan oil, they were gilded like gilded lilies. But even better, I broke apart pickled chive blossoms and floated them on top of the bowl of soup.

I urge you, gardeners, to make chive blossom vinegar this spring.  It’s a wonderful dressing, colored rose pink, and you can use the pickled blossoms in all kinds of ways.  Here, it provides the sour balance to the sweet, salty, bitter (from the celery leaves), umami soup.

Don’t omit the celery.  It provides an important taste component (see above), and the soup really needs the mirepoix of onion-leek-rutabaga-celery to add complexities to the flavor.

I’ve been using Marisa at Food in Jars‘ suggestion to take soups to work in mason jars.  I’m a bit leery of using my canning jars for daily eating, since they tend to break more easily when they’re redeployed in canning after being banged about, but portable soup is such a messy proposition, I recommend the nice, tight seal canning lids can provide.

Here’s my basic recipe.  The delight of soups is that you add as you go, so I don’t have measurements for this one.

Savory Sweetmeat Squash Leek Soup

  • A healthy chunk of sweetmeat, or butternut, pumpkin, or similar squash (estimate 6-8 cups cubed)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 small rutabaga or a few carrots or parsnips
  • 2-3 leeks
  • 2 stalks of celery, with leaves
  • 2-3 tablespoons of butter or bacon fat*
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 1-2 teaspoons of winter savory or thyme
  • enough chicken stock to cover squash by a few inches
  • a cup or so of half-and-half
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut the squash in 1-inch cubes and dice the other vegetables.  Add all vegetables to a stock pot with the butter/bacon fat and some salt and pepper, and sweat on medium low heat with the lid on until everything softens up, about 20 minutes.  Add stock and herbs, and mash the vegetables.  Bring to a simmer, then let cook down for 45 minutes or more on medium low heat.  Puree the soup with a hand blender, then add the half-and-half.  Mix well.  Let flavors combine and liquids cook down even more, about 30 more minutes, on low heat. Adjust seasonings and garnish before serving with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chives, or other herbs.

Another option is to roast the squash first, in large chunks, at 325 degrees for about an hour, then scoop the flesh off for the soup. It adds more flavor.  Plus, you can roast the squash seeds at the same time.

* I have the luxury of having a tub of wonderful bacon grease from local pigs, so it adds loads of flavor to my soups and pot roasts.  You might consider browning some pancetta, minced, in oil and using that for the fat.

canning techniques: dropping acid

I often cringe when I see pickling recipes on the internet, but canned tomato recipes are usually downright unsafe.  I’m not a complete preservation safety cop, but there are some basic rules I really do follow.  I carefully consider the surfaces that encourage microbial growth.  I’m kind of a cleaning maniac when I’m canning — I really do scrub up everything and sanitize my sponges before canning.  And I make those little suckers feel very uncomfortable by changing their happy low-acid free love festival to a high-acid paranoid police state.  Kills the ambiance, you know?

I pay more attention to acid than a Berkeley undergrad.  Tomato preparations need added acid because they’re right on the cusp of what we call high and low acid foods on the pH scale.  My guess is that those watery plum tomatoes we buy by the lug are on the low end.  Low-acid foods are breeding grounds for pathogens, including the dreaded clostridium botulinum.  We want to make anything we can either high in acid or high in sugar, sometimes both.

So we add acid.  You can play a bit with tastes.  Sometimes lemon and lime juice can be used, or vinegars with different flavor profiles, as long as they have 5% acetic acid.  But here’s the key:

It’s ok to substitute equal amounts of bottled lemon juice for vinegar in recipes
using vinegar.  DO NOT substitute vinegar for lemon juice.  Lemon juice is more acidic.

Use only bottled lemon and lime juice in tomato canning recipes.  I know, bottled lime is not the best taste and often contains preservatives, but you won’t be able to taste the bottled-ness in your tomatoes, and the preservatives actually may help.  The problem is that the acidity of lemons and limes varies over the season, and you want consistency in canning tomatoes, especially if you are using a tested recipe…or if you aren’t using one, you’ll need all the acidity you can get.  I save my fresh lemons for high-acid fruit jams, where you can really taste the difference.

Vinegars can pose a different problem.  Most of the vinegar one can buy in bulk sizes is standard, commercial stuff with a big 5% printed on the jug.  This 5% is not the pH level, it is the percentage of acetic acid in the vinegar solution (the rest is water).  White distilled, cider, white wine, and red wine vinegars are most often sold at 5% acid.  European vinegars, however, including white and red wine vinegar I often buy for salads, can vary from 3 – 8%.  (Compare my “Ac. 8˚” imported Spanish sherry vinegar and the 5% white wine vinegar, above.)  Japanese rice vinegar is most often only 3-4.2%, so you shouldn’t use it for canning.  The lower amount of acid actually makes for a smoother taste with less bite — great for some dishes, but not great for your shelf-stable tomatoes . In short:

The percentage of acetic acid in vinegar is almost always printed on the bottle, so check it out, and don’t use anything under 5%.

If you follow these two basic rules, you’re on your way to canned tomato nirvana.  Turn on, tune in, and drop out, man.

vinegars and oils and gardens, oh my!

DSCF4404First, a reminder that today is the last day for early bird registration for the Gardeners Mini College.  See details on the right.

Second, stop by and see me at Down to Earth tomorrow!  I’ll be downtown at the store doing a free demo on safely preparing flavored vinegars and oils.  The demo runs from 1-3 p.m., as part of the summer series with the OSU Extension-Lane County Master Food Preservers.  We will have plenty of herb and garlic oils and delicious, fruity, flowery vinegars to taste (on home-baked bread!).

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be joined by Pat Patterson, a veteran MFP and Master Gardener, who knows more about plants and preservation than anyone else in town.  You may have heard her on one of many gardening shows or local seminars.  We turn to Pat when someone has an obscure insect to identify or a rare plant issue or anything else about which no one has a clue.

This demo is appropriate for beginners, but even advanced preservers should take note.  With Pat, you can ask any question you like!  Plus, one of the handouts we’ll have at the demo is a list of edible local flowers, prepared by a friend of Pat’s.  It might be worth it to show up just to pick up one of these.  And to say hello, of course!

Your summer salads will thank you.

on the road: green pepper sauciness

I made it back to Buffalo, shuffling.  Hope that doesn’t mean a delivery of a racially stereotyped baby to my door.  A Catskills-style song and dance routine with elves would be nice, though.

But ANYWAY.

The long flight was made bearable by bearable Southern food in ATL.  With all my complaints about greens, I have to confess that I could sit around and eat Southern-style collards all day long, every day.  The ones I make at home, long simmered with ham hock and dressed with a knob of butter and vinegar, are never as good as the ones I’ve had made by bona fide Southerners.  The reason is clear: I don’t have even a hint of the South in me.  Even my ancestors are northerly.  I even felt helplessly trapped under the Mason-Dixon line when we lived in Baltimore; that’s how North I am.

So, eating at the undoubtedly mediocre buffet at Pascal’s in the Atlanta airport, I was in heaven to tuck into a huge pile of collards, the star of a plate containing mushy long-cooked green beans (yes, another vice of mine), and what I thought would be a smothered pork chop but what turned out to be a Salisbury steak.  It was the best TV dinner I had ever had.  I followed it with a praline chaser from what is most likely a famous Georgian candy shop, whose name I can’t recall but had something to do with Savannah.

Among all of these delicious delights, the star was a simple preparation of tabasco peppers steeped in vinegar, available as a condiment for the greens.  I was too stumped by the moniker “green pepper sauce” when I examined the clear liquid, so I didn’t catch the brand name.  My friends tell me there are many different possibilities; the internet agrees.  I know it wasn’t Texas Pete’s.  The bottles were small and glass, the size of a Tabasco bottle.  What, WHAT, was the name of that delicious sauce?

herb flower vinegar

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Make your herb flower vinegar now, or forever hold your peace.  (Well, at least until next spring.)  Don’t waste the herb trimmings you’ve pruned from now-flowering plantings.  My vinegar is fortified with thyme flowers, Tuscan rosemary flowers, chive blossom heads, and a single strawberry blossom. Another lovely possibility is chive blossoms and a long, fat twist of lemon peel.

Pack the flowers loosely in a jar, then fill with a decent quality vinegar.  I prefer wine vinegar over plain distilled vinegar, since the latter is so sharp-tasting, but you could use either.  Top with a non-metal cap and let sit for a month or so before using or gifting.

safe kosher-style dill pickles: fermented and non-fermented

This post contains two recipes: (1) a tested recipe for vinegar pickles, which are canned immediately and therefore called “Quick Kosher Dills;” and (2) a tested recipe that takes more time for fermented full-sour dills that you can either store in a cool place in a crock or can.

See my fermented half-sour dill pickle notes if you’d like to develop your own recipe for that kind of pickle.

There is a certain art in making fermented dill pickles, since the environmental conditions matter so much.  We don’t have central air conditioning, so my house is subject to the vagaries of time and place.  But it’s pickle time, and the pickle eating masses demand a good recipe!  Most people aren’t as grumpy as I am about too-vinegary pickles, and the MFP in me feels slightly obligated to distribute a plain pickle recipe that people can use, especially after my own mom had to rely on an old recipe with no directions.

So please find herewith two reliable, safe recipes from the Pacific Northwest Extension brochure called “Pickling Vegetables,” annotated and modified with my notes in green.

If you’re interested in long-term storage, please follow these instructions carefully, as cucumber pickles are large enough to cause problems with the brine not penetrating and creating a haven for microorganisms.  You will soon see why people don’t post these recipes — what a fussy pain!  :)  But I think we need an annotated, vetted pickle recipe on the interwebs, since there really doesn’t seem to be one.  I don’t want to be the pickle nazi — we all have the responsibility to take our own risks with food and other activities, but part of that choice is to know what has been tested and recommended by food science folks.

The first recipe allows you to put up dill pickles in pint or quart jars instead of a crock.  You won’t have to refrigerate these if you process or low-temperature pasteurize them.  What I like about this recipe is that it doesn’t use pickling lime or any hard-to-find spices, like mace.

The second recipe is a more standard old-fashioned fermented pickle recipe.  It is more fussy but will make better pickles, in my opinion.  You have the option of either storing them in the refrigerator or boiling the brine and processing them for longer storage.

When selecting cucumbers for pickling, don’t use the waxy supermarket variety, of course, and select the freshest, firmest, youngest, smallest cucumbers you can.  Scrub with a very soft brush, since dirt tends to cling to them, especially in the crevices, and trim off any blemishes.  If you can, pick them in the morning and put them up the same day.  Try to have them all the same size, so they process evenly.

Also of crucial importance is the length of the cucumbers.  If you use pint jars, they will barely fit, and you’ll have to slice more off the end.  You want the cucumbers to be no longer than one inch from the top of the pint jar (just under the lowest ring stamped in the jar), since you will fill it with brine to one-half inch from the top of the pint jar.  You’ll be able to fit in 5-6 cucumbers per pint jar.  For quart jars, you will have more leeway, but make sure the pickles don’t float to the top.

Quick Kosher Dills

  • 4 lb. pickling cucumbers (4-inch)
  • 14 garlic cloves, split
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt [note: regular salt has a non-caking additive that will cloud the brine; sea salt has impurities.  You can buy canning/pickling salt at most grocery stores in season.]
  • 2 3/4 cups vinegar (5%) [note: European vinegars have more acidity, so they’re ok to use, but don’t use 4% vinegars, which are also on the market.  Standard white vinegar is usually 5%]
  • 3 cups water [note: if you have hard water, use bottled water.  Soft water is ok.]
  • 14 heads fresh dill [note: frozen heads of fresh dill taste better than fresh, since the cell walls are broken down by freezing.  Stick your dill in the freezer after buying it at the market and harvesting the heads]
  • 28 peppercorns
  • 2 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • [note:  I also add a teaspoon of Penzeys pickling spice and a half-teaspoon of brown mustard seed per pint jar]
  • [note:  6-8 fresh, washed grape leaves can be added to the jars if you have them, to retard softening.  Concord are best.]

Yield: 6 to 7 pints or 3 to 4 quarts

Procedure: Wash cucumbers.  Cut a 1/16-inch slice off blossom end [note: i.e., not the stem end.  It’s usually the smaller, lighter-color end of the cucumber], but leave 1/4 inch of stem on the other end.  Cut in half lengthwise [note: this isn’t necessary and they’re prettier if whole].  Heat salt, vinegar and water to boiling.  [Wash and heat jars — I usually run the dishwasher immediately before canning, and leave the jars in the heated dishwasher.  If you are particularly careful, you can boil the jars for 5 minutes before using.  The lids and rings shouldn’t be boiled, but should be washed and brought up to 180 degrees in simmering water, then allowed to sit for 5 minutes before use.  Use only new lids to ensure a good seal.] Pack cucumbers [as tightly as possible] into pint or quart jars, adding [one grape leaf per jar at bottom of jar,] 4 garlic halves, 2 heads dill [note: if large heads, use only one], and 4 peppercorns.  Add 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes per pint, if desired.

Pour hot vinegar solution over cucumbers to within 1/2 inch of top.  [Gently tap or roll jar on counter to release air bubbles inside brine.] Adjust lids and use conventional boiling-water canner processing [note: this might soften pickles, but you can boil for 10 minutes for pints, 15 for quarts, following standard waterbath canning procedures] or [what I recommend] lower temperature pasteurization.

[For lower temperature pasteurization, you use your waterbath canner (or a large stockpot that can cover the jars with at least an inch of water).  You’ll need a candy thermometer to check the temperature.  Heat the water to 120 to 140 degrees, then add jars and more hot water to cover, if necessary.  Heat water to 180 degrees, then start a timer, processing the jars for 30 minutes.  Be sure the temperature stays between 180-185 the entire time.  Remove the jars after processing and let cool on a rack or towel with air circulating between the jars.]

Dill Pickles

[This is a recipe for fermented kosher-style dills.  It only uses a little bit of vinegar to inhibit microorganisms.  I recommend buying a Gärtopf crock if you like to make pickles and sauerkraut regularly.]

Use the following quantities for each gallon of your container’s capacity.

  • 4 lb. pickling cucumbers (4-inch)
  • 2 Tbsp dill seed or 4 to 5 heads fresh or dry dill weed [note: dill heads are superior to seed.  Frozen heads of fresh dill taste better than fresh, since the cell walls are broken down by freezing.  Stick your dill in the freezer after buying it at the market and harvesting the heads]
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional) [note:  NOT optional :)]
  • 2 dried red peppers (optional)
  • 2 tsp whle mixed pickling spices (optional)
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (5%) [note: European vinegars have more acidity, so they’re ok to use, but don’t use 4% vinegars, which are also on the market.  Standard white vinegar is usually 5%]
  • 8 cups water [note: if you have hard water, use bottled water.  Soft water is ok.]
  • [note:  a few fresh, washed grape leaves can be added to the container if you have them, to retard softening.  Concord are best.]

Procedure:  Wash cucumbers.  Cut a 1/16-inch slice off blossom end [note: i.e., not the stem end.  It’s usually the smaller, lighter-color end of the cucumber], but leave 1/4 inch of stem on the other end. [Poke cucumbers with a knitting needle or thin chopstick to aid pickling.] Place half of dill and half of other flavorings on bottom of a clean, suitable container [i.e. a crock or food grade plastic or glass containers, preferably 3 quarts or larger.  DON’T use small jars for this recipe, as they won’t allow proper fermentation].  Add [grape leaves,] cucumbers, remaining dill, and flavorings.  Dissolve salt in vinegar and water and pour over cucumbers.  Add suitable weight [if you don’t have a crock with a weight in it, I recommend a gallon-sized Ziploc bag filled with brine (1 1/2 tablespoons of salt per 1 quart water) that you close up and place snugly in the container after filling it.  Double-bag for security, but if it leaks, the brine is the same concentration as the brine in the container.] and cover [with a clean towel.  Do not seal the container or the fermenting may make the lid blow off.  If you are using a crock, follow the manufacturer’s instructions about the lid].

Store where temperature is 70 to 75 degrees F for about 3 to 4 weeks.  Temperatures of 55 to 65 are acceptable [and in my opinion, make much better pickles], but the fermentation will take 5 to 6 weeks.  Pickles will become too soft if temperatures are above 80 degrees during fermentation.

Check the container several times a week and promptly remove surface scum or mold. [I find that with a Gartopf crock, I don’t get mold, since the seal is air-tight, so I don’t check it that often.]

Caution:  if the pickles become soft or slimy, or if they develop a disagreeable odor, discard them.  [Without tasting them!!!]

Fully fermented pickles may be stored in the original container for 4 to 6 months, provided you refrigerate them and remove surface scum and molds regularly.

Canning is a better way to store fully fermented pickles.  To can them, pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes.  Filter brine through paper coffee filters to reduce cloudiness, if desired.  Fill pint or quart jars with pickles and hot brine, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

[Gently tap or roll jar on counter to release air bubbles inside brine.] Adjust lids and use conventional boiling-water canner processing [note: this might soften pickles, but you can boil for 10 minutes for pints, 15 for quarts, following standard waterbath canning procedures] or [what I recommend] lower temperature pasteurization.

[For lower temperature pasteurization, you use your waterbath canner (or a large stockpot that can cover the jars with at least an inch of water).  You’ll need a candy thermometer to check the temperature.  Heat the water to 120 to 140 degrees, then add jars and more hot water to cover, if necessary.  Heat water to 180 degrees, then start a timer, processing the jars for 30 minutes.  Be sure the temperature stays between 180-185 the entire time.  Remove the jars after processing and let cool on a rack or towel with air circulating between the jars.]

my staples: master recipe for flavored vinegars

It’s flowering flowery flower time in the Willamette Valley. The rhododendrons in Eugene are always spectacular, but this year, with the weird cold/hot weather pattern, they are extraordinary. We have four mature rhodies, none of which I would have planted myself, but even I, begrudgingly, will say they look fabulous.

The problem is that someone who lived here really, really, really liked purple. I suspect it was the crazy lady with the dogs. Most of the mature blooming landscaping around my house is in the range of purple, fuchsia and pink, and I’m more of a red-orange person. So I can’t help but be overwhelmed when a mushroom cloud of fuchsia attacks me in my front yard.

I can’t offer any solution to those of you suffering fuchsia attacks, but I can say that I’ve found a lovely use for one, tiny fuschia flower: the head of a flowering chive, now in bloom.

This week, in my Master Food Preserver class, we did flavored vinegars and jellies. In the top picture, you can see a rather beautiful and easy chive flower-lemon infused vinegar. Herb or flower-flavored vinegars are easy to make in small batches, and don’t need any processing because of the tartness of the vinegar, so anyone can make them. The only thing you really need to be aware of is that you don’t want to pack in too much dense, low-pH stuff (like jalapenos, for example), or you still can run the risk of botulism.

Making Herb or Flower Vinegar

In a clean jar, add enough flowers or fresh herbs to loosely pack the jar about a third full. Another option is a slice or two of lemon or lemon zest, or a berries (frozen are best).

Fill jar with white wine or plain white vinegar. (Cider vinegar has a very distinctive taste, as does rice vinegar, but you’re welcome to use these if you have a complementary berry or herb.)  Cover the jar with a non-metal lid, or, alternatively and more messily, cover with plastic wrap before screwing on your metal lid.  As you can see, I made my vinegars in baby food jars, but I’ve since moved them to containers without metal lids, because vinegar rusts metal over time.  Let mature for at least a few weeks and preferably several months in a dark, cool cupboard.

Other flowers can be used, too. Our MFP instructor makes nasturtium-garlic vinegar, and I made not only the chive blossom-lemon but also Marionberry-Szechuan peppercorn, with those little lovely floral buds from China that are once again legal in the U.S. Next year, I’m going to try strawberry blossom vinegar with my first-bloom Seascape strawberry blossoms, which should be removed anyway to strengthen the plants.

Edited to add:  Some of my favorite flavor combinations, now that I’ve been doing this for several years, are Concord grape-star anise, Marionberry-thyme (with either white or red wine vinegar), the Japanese citrus called yuzu and garlic (with rice vinegar), and jalapeno-onion-garlic-salt in coconut vinegar (this is a homemade version of Phillipine spiced datu puti).  Non-blend vinegars I make regularly include tarragon in white wine vinegar, cranberry, chive blossom, and red ripe jalapeno.  The only flavor I don’t care for in vinegar is sage.  Rosemary also tastes medicinal.

The green jar, if you’re curious, is a welcome respite from all this purple. It’s a jalapeño jelly, made from cooked peppers that were clarified in a most curious manner. I’ll post about this at a later date. :)

spinach crowns with sleet dressing (mizore-ae)

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I’m a new member of the Good Food Easy CSA through Sweetwater Farm. Each week, we pick up a bag of organic fruits and vegetables (and sometimes eggs and other goodies) from a nearby drop-off location. What I like about Good Food Easy is that they provide winter shares, we can pay on a monthly basis, and there are three sizes available depending on your needs. The winter shares include food not only from their farm and greenhouse, but also other local farms and a few regional items (like citrus). The 100% locavores wouldn’t like the latter, but since we don’t live in Northern California, local vegetables in the winter tend to get a bit too rustic and weedy for my tastes. Most of all, I like it that Good Food Easy gives us Asian vegetables, “weird” stuff like burdock and daikon. They have a thing for fermentation, too, so they sometimes provide sauerkraut and kim chi. YUM!

We’ve started out with a small bag each week for $20, and the fruits and vegetables are plenty for the two of us. This week, for example, we received a quarter of a napa cabbage, a young daikon radish, a red onion, a bag of sunchokes, two apples, two oranges, a bunch of young carrots and a beautiful bunch of spinach.

I hadn’t cooked Japanese for a while, and since I’m trying to lose a bit of weight, I decided to have soba noodles for lunch, and accompany them with a dipping sauce made of broth, soy sauce, vinegar, green onion, and grated daikon radish. The spinach begged to be eaten as a side dish, so I took advantage of the young crowns, the part that usually gets thrown away when you eat only the leaves.dscf6697.jpg

In the spring, spinach crowns are tender and a beautiful rosy pink color at the tips. One has to wash them very carefully, several times over in deep bowls of cold water, swishing them around and carefully draining the muddy water and rinsing the bowl each time. In addition, it’s a good idea to inspect each crown, stripping off damaged stems and rinsing stubborn dirt from the crevices. After this, the recipe is simple. Either steam them for two minutes or do as I did, dunk them in the boiling water I had ready for the noodles, let them parboil for a minute or two (just to soften them a bit — DO NOT overcook), then let them drain well and cool down while you prepare accompanying dishes.

The dressing is a classic Japanese one, using grated daikon radish to mimic sleet or a bit of snow on the young vegetables. It’s a perfect early spring dish, not to mention fat-free. Use any young, green vegetable. I used spinach crowns, but you could also use similarly parboiled spinach leaves, baby bok choy, young chard, green beans, etc.

Another brilliant pairing for the dressing is fish. The Japanese use grated daikon and soy sauce with really strong fish, like mackerel, to tame the fishiness. I think vinegared grated daikon is lovely with tuna and salmon, too.

Sleet Dressing (Mizore-ae)

Enough grated daikon radish to yield about 1/4 cup (just buy a small one at an Asian market or a well-stocked grocery store — you’ll use about 4 inches or so depending on how thick it is).

1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste

dash sugar

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Grate the daikon on the finest holes of a box grater, or preferably on a ceramic grater like the one pictured (available at Asian grocery stores, or, if you’re lucky, at the Goodwill, which is where I found a large one last week!) Grate more than you’ll think you need, about 1/4 cup.

Squeeze out most of the liquid in the grated radish. Measure out a heaped tablespoon full of radish and place in a small bowl. Add the vinegar, salt, and a dash of sugar. Taste for saltiness. Add more salt or vinegar as necessary. Then add some white pepper for kick and stir.

Prepare your vegetables. I made enough spinach crowns for two people. After parboiling for only a minute or two, I drained the spinach crowns, squeezed out all excess water, then mounded them so they looked nice in a serving bowl.

Immediately prior to serving, carefully pour the dressing over a mound of vegetables, so you can see little clumps of “snow” clinging to the wet greenery. That’s it! Pretty and easy and healthy.

Now what in the heck am I going to do with those sunchokes?