Lately, I've been obsessed with canning and pickling things. To say that I love anything pickled is an understatement. I have yet to try pickled meats, but I have eaten pickled eggs, and I enjoy just about any vegetable that is pickled. I only recently inherited my mother's canning equipment, so I have not started on that, but I've been doing a lot of refrigerator pickles. They don't last as long, but they are simple to make and you don't have to worry so much about contamination if you can them improperly.
There are a lot of pickled veggies in Asian cuisine. The thing that makes Asian pickles stand out from most western pickles is that they tend to go beyond just sour or sweet of our pickles. They like to add stronger flavors to them. So, I give you my recipe for Chinese pickled cucumbers. This is mishmash of various recipes I have found. They are pretty simple to make, and taste better the longer you leave them in the fridge. Remember, the measurements of ingredients are estimates.
• 5 to 8 pickling cucumbers also known as Gherkins (Cucumis anguria) • 2 to 3 carrots
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1/2 Cup Vinegar
• 2 Tbs soy sauce
• 2 Tsp salt
• 1 Tbs sugar
• 1 Tsp pepper
• 1 Tsp sesame oil (optional)
• 1 Tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
Clean your cucumbers and peel your carrots. Cut the cucs in half longways and gently scrape out the seeds with a small spoon. You probably can leave them in, but I just clean them out. Gherkin skins are so thin, I don't bother removing them. Slice the cucs into strips. If the cuc is rather long (>4"), cut in half. For the carrots, julienne them. There are a number of techniques of doing this that can be found on the internet, but I learned from my mother-in-law.
Cut the carrot obliquely, at a low an angle as possible (1). This will give you thin, oval disks of carrot (2). Then using the oval disks of carrot, cut the carrot into strips (3). I have one of those mandolin cutters, but I found I waste a lot of carrot using it. I suppose you could shed it, but that is too thin.
Salting the veggies--
I have found that if you just dump the cucs and carrots into you vinegar mixture, they don't absorb the flavors much. So, I use a technique that I've seen used for making cole slaw with cabbage. Take your sliced cucs and carrots, mix with the 2 tsp of salt, and put them in a colander for about an hour or so. The water will come out of them and will more readily absorb the vinegar. They will also tend to be a little crunchier. I've never done this with the garlic, but it might work well with that. As a result of this, there is no need to add additional salt.
Making the vinegar mixture--
While waiting for the salting veggies, put all remaining ingredients, except for the garlic, into a small sauce pan and boil for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar.
Putting the whole thing together--
Gently press down on the veggies in the colander to squeeze out some of the water. Then put the veggies, including the garlic, and the vinegar mixture into a plastic container and seal. Once a day, I shake them up just to redistribute them. In about three days, they should be ready, as I said, they are even better if you let them sit a little longer.
I've make some variations on them that give them slightly different flavors:
Vinegar: Normally, I used either the white or apple vinegar, but I've also used a 70/30 mixture of rice vinegar to white. Rice vinegar is not as strong and give a subtle sweet flavor to it.
Sugar: I've substituted light brown sugar to table sugar. Try it, to see if you like it.
Ginger: I've added minced fresh ginger and that gives it a nice kick to it.
Garlic: just throwing in the cloves does not give off much of a garlic flavor, so recently, I've added a third clove that I've pressed and thrown in to the mix.