Monday, 8 July 2013

How to Sweet-Asian-Pickle Anything



Sorry for the radio silence. I have been off gallivanting in New York, kayaking down the Hudson River, eating too many "must-eat" burgers and buns, and having too many late nights (working! Though there were a few parties...).

But I am back! And itching for my kitchen. You know when you eat too many rich and salty and fatty and delicious things, and all you crave after is a bowl of something white and light and plain? God, I felt so happy with my boring bowl of congee. Topped with some fried shallots, spring onions, and pickled lettuce hearts. Forget bread and butter; in Asia, it's rice and pickle that forms the most basic, most ordinary but most essential of meals. 

Pickles aren't difficult to make at all. It sounds complicated but it really isn't. At the risk of over-simplifying things (I probably am), let me try to give you a rundown. First, there are the salty pickles and they take a little bit more time (days to months, depending on the pickle and how pickled you like it) but they keep for a lot longer and you hardly move a finger in that time. You use salt, a lot of it. Then, there are the sweet pickles and they take almost no time at all (hours to days, or even minutes if you are that pressed for time), and you still hardly move a finger. You use sugar and vinegar, and you do still need quite a bit of salt at the start.  If you vary the seasonings/ spices/ herbs you use– soy sauce, fish sauce, chillies, garlic, cumin, whatever– you get different flavours.

I'll talk about sweet pickles today because no one likes waiting more than a few minutes these days. The main ingredient(s) is whatever crunchy seasonal vegetable you fancy. The example here is of some ugly cucumbers and gorgeous radishes I got from the farmer's market. (The cucumbers that look like studded fat green slugs seem frightening, but are crunchier and less juicy and seedy than the smooth ridged ones I'd reserve for nibbling raw). 


SWEET ASIAN PICKLED VEGETABLES
Ingredients
1 large cucumber (200g)
1 bunch of radishes (100g)
1 tsp kosher salt

Pickling liquid 
(basically 1:1 ratio but you can adjust slightly to taste) 
1 cup sugar (I prefer unrefined)
1 cup white rice vinegar

Extras
(you can skip this)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds

Method
1. Slice cucumbers and radishes into rounds (or whatever shape you fancy, really). Sprinkle generously with the salt and massage into the vegetables. Leave for 10 minutes or so to 'sweat'; you want it to lose about 1/4 its volume.
2. Meanwhile, bring the sugar and rice vinegar to a simmer and stir till the sugar dissolves. Toast the cumin seeds in a hot pan if using, then add to the pickling liquid. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
3. Drain the cucumbers and radishes, and rinse 3 times. I also press them gently to squeeze out any salty water.
4. Place vegetables in a glass container or jar of sorts. Pour pickling liquid over vegetables* and let chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. These should keep for 2 weeks*, sometimes 3 weeks, but beyond that they start looking a little tired.

*Post-pickle disclaimer: I would not pickle my radishes for more than half a day because they lose their lovely pink. And I would not pickle them together with the cucumbers because then the cucumbers turn sort of pinkish-green, which is not very attractive...
*If you want to use vegetables like cauliflower, I would lightly blanch the florets first.

I told you it's easy. The vegetables are wonderfully crisp and I love how each munch yields a satisfying burst of sweet, sharp pickling juice and earthy cumin fragrance. You can get as creative as you like; I'll chuck some ideas at the end of this post. I love sweet pickles in a banh mi-style baguette maybe with torn roast chicken or slices of roast pork; tossed with boring/ non-pickled vegetables to add zing to a salad; maybe rolled with rice into bastardised sushi; or really, just eaten straight out of the jar with a (clean) pair of chopsticks.




Other ideas:
Carrot and daikon (classic)
Sliced red onions (turn pin and loses its sharpness, gorgeous)
Thinly sliced young ginger (to make sushi gari, the rice vinegar naturally turns the ginger pink omfg)

Other pickles on the blog:
Nonya Achar (my aunt's recipe, stupidly simple but stunning)
Better Homemade Kimchi

In case you wanted congee after all that talk:
Leftover turkey/ chicken congee
Teochew porridge (and preserved turnip omelette)

Read more about how pickles are incredibly healthy (the salt- fermented ones though, to be precise)


42 comments:

  1. Wow lucky you...sounds like fun. Welcome back home. These do look refreshing perfect for the awesome weather we're having. I hadn't realised how healthy pickles are...
    thanks for sharing Shu Han.
    deb

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    1. It's been a lot of fun but it's always nice to be back! And yes pickles are really good for the digestion and they perk up your meal instantly! Glad you enjoyed the post :)

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  2. So jealous of your travels in New York. Sounds like you had a lot of fun! These pickles are perfect for this boiling hot weather, so light and refreshing. I never realised how easy they are to make and so pretty too.

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    1. lalala :p
      They really are so easy to make, well at least the sweet refrigerator ones are! And yes, pretty- very important ha! I like seeing all the colours in a jar, instantly whets my appetite!

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  3. Mm, I've been seeing your photos - you seem to have had so much fun, but I know the feeling... it's always nice to be back! I think you "broke" me... ever since that congee post you made... God, I can't even remember when... I sometimes, maybe once every 3 months, suddenly get extreme urges to eat congee, and this never happened to me before I read that post, lol! :D

    The pickle looks lovely - nice to see a use for kohlrabi! I bought some once and was decidedly unimpressed. Perhaps it will be more like cauliflower... i.e. delicious when raw/pickled, disgusting when cooked! :D

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    1. I actually really hate long travels; I always moan and wish I'm home towards the end. So yes, it's nice to be back!

      HAH! Very flattered to know I've "broke" you. Hell, congee every months?! I have to have congee at least once a week. Not kidding. This is my ultimate comfort food.

      I didn't pickle the kohlrabi, but I made a salad with that, fennel, and some pickled red onions. I thought it had a nice subtle clean flavour and crunch, which worked well with the sweet, sharp onions. But pickloing kohlrabi doesn't sound like a bad idea...

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  4. Yum! The only thing I don't like is that the veg's brilliant colors soften when you pickle them ... boo, hiss! They sure taste wonderful, though!

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    1. Boo that's true they do soften but all the colours together still look so lovely!

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  5. Shu Han, I love pickles too! Especially the complicated ones - Nonya Acar hah! hah!

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  6. I’m imagining myself relaxing on the porch just looking at these.

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  7. It's so funny! I have just spent a whole weekend pickling ;-) I am a crazy pickler and preserver and always wonder why people are afraid of preserves? In so many countries... I like quick Asian preserves (some Japanese salt pickles take no time at all!), but, just like a squirrel, I like stocking my pantry for the colder days.
    I'm thrilled to learn you are a fellow pickler and your pickles look lovely. The thing I'm absolutely amazed to see is kohlrabi!!! It's THE snack of my childhood! My mum would peel it, cut into thick slices and I would snack on it all day, all summer... (that is when I wasn't eating raw rhubarb straight from the garden ;-) ). I have never tasted kohlrabi prepared in any other way. I'm intrigued!
    I will be posting about my preserves soon. The season has only started and I have already made some experimental jars (I try to do something new every year). My present obsession is to change Asian short-term pickles into long-term ones. It doesn't work every time (though it does with ginger! I posted about it last year and tasted the last jar a month ago: it only improves with time).

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    1. I have to check out the quick Japanese salt pickles! I always get a bit discouraged with the salt ones because I'm so impatient! And I totally get what you mean by "squirrel". You should see my pantry.
      Haha well actually the kohlrabi wasn't pickled, Imade it into a salad by thinly slicing it, and then combining it with fennel and pcikled red onion and the sweet sharp onions just helped to give some zing to the otherwise plain kohlrabi!
      Super excited to read about your preserves soon. Andyes the ginger definitely ages well; I still have a bit from the last time I did it! There's a chinese sayign that says the older the ginger the better.

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  8. Your title drew me in instantly. I always knew you were a smart cookie but your delivery is what captures me. Love your writing style and style in general...lovelovelove! I would love to do this with daikon/carrots. Thanks for the reminder and inspiration lady =)

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    1. Aw thank you so so so much! You made my day! And yes this works brilliantly with daikon and carrots, love their natural sweetness and orange and white looks stunning.

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  9. Wish I could leave everything behind and go kayaking , okay , maybe not that , but eating some must-eat burgers sounds fantastic lol I love any kind of pickles but haven't made it yet :P Your homemade pickled veggies looks simple for sure and I bet taste it as good as it looks !

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    1. Haha! Kayaking- followed by burgers :P
      Get in! It's time to make pickles!

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  10. I know exactly what you mean...although I love traveling and stuffing my belly full of unspeakables, after several days, all I want is a simple home cooked meal. It's been awhile since I pickled anything and the ugly cucumbers, I am def purchasing soon!

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    1. Exactly. It feels almost like.. stomach therapy. Ha.

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  11. Great post! Thanks for making things so simple. I love pickled anything, but so rarely do it myself - I definitely need to start, and you've takes some of the mystery out of it. Thanks.

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    1. Glad I've helped, and GET ON IT! :p You won't regret it, the pickles are so simple and they immediately add colour and zing to anything!

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  12. Hi, Shuhan ! Guess what, last night I had a dream that I met you - enough to say how much I like your blog ;)
    New York ?! Looks like things are turning out well for you, congrats !
    Your pictures are so gorgeous and this pickle idea sounded so awesome that I picked a bunch of radishes last time I went shopping, pickled them last evening and ate them this morning with "boring" congee (though not Asian, I went crazy about congee for breakfast some time ago - reminds me I crave since ever for yours, the one with chai poh omelette, but still haven't given it a go, too bad)... and well, these pickles are simply addictive (I spent my day munching on them, seriously) !
    I was a bit sceptical about adding cumin seeds (I'm not familiar of them in Asian cooking, correct me if I'm wrong) but I made it though and you're right, it's stunning ! And so simple a method ! I keep it in mind for other veggies too (by the way, i can't wait to get my hands on kohlrabi to try your last pictures' salad). Thanks so much for sharing ! Cheers !!!

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    1. Hahahaha omg I can't believe you dreamt of me. I am so flattered. I would love to meet you some day, we must make it happen sometime this lifetime haha.

      You will love the chai poh omelette I think, if you like congee (which is already a BIG accomplishment for a non-asian, since most of my non-asian friends hate congee); they go so well together!

      I'm so glad you liked them. The cumin seeds just add a little burst of aroma when you get a bit of it with your pickle. Like how I love when western pickled cucumbers have mustard seeds in them and you end up accidentally slipping a seeds or two into your mouth!

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    2. Aw, I'm flattered in return Shuhan ! Well, next time I'm on a visit in London I'll let you know then ;)
      As for cumin and mustard seed : agreed ! Btw, made the pickled red onions too and enjoyed them as well, especially when I popped some into a barbecue sauce - cheddar - smoked bacon grilled sandwich... yum !
      And I thought of bringing back some chai poh from the Asian grocery last time I dropped by, so that I will likely be making the omelette this week-end :) (btw, glad to know I'm no more a genuine non-asian anymore, I sometimes wish I were born with slanted eyes haha - seriously I'm so fond of Asian food that I regret I can't go around in a whole life !)
      Last but not least, sorry for MY radio silence, I'm so tired and busy and messy with my summer job that I couldn't find before the time to stop by my favourite blogs with an easy mind ! Hope you're doing well ! And, that you had a good time making wasabi chips, did they suit your taste ? Cheers !

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    3. Definitely! Hit me up when you're next in London (well, fingers crossed I will still be in London then- I need someone to hire me! )
      The sandwich sounds deicious! Such a good idea- sweet onions with salty smoky bacon- nice one, going to try that myself too!

      Haha about slanted eyes- we don't all have that!! I do though, but only when I smile. Definitely get some chaipoh and some belachan at that to make sambal/ the new curry I just posted about- I think it's completely up your alley!

      And PLEASE what radio silence- I have been the one quiet on the blog front for so long! Been so busy this summer with all my odd jobs and travelling. The chips were delicious- thanks so much for the recipe!

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    4. Great, thanks for your kind answer and advices and glad you liked my sandwich idea, too !
      Sorry about the eyes, hope I didn't offend you - I of course do know it's cliché :)
      By the way I forgot to wish you good luck with your upcoming jobs... cross my fingers for you to be hired !

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  13. I pickled rock samphire recently, with rice vinegar, but never though of using sugar... I'll try this combination 1:1 next time, and will add cumin seeds too ;-) BTW THANK YOU very much for the NYC adresses!!!!

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    1. This is for sweet pickles, so yes the sugar is a must must must! Cumin seeds are just for an added kick; you can use any spice you like!

      Wow how did youg et hold of rock samphire? Here I've seen marsh samphire around quite a bit but it's difficult to get hold of rock samphire! Bet it must have tasted brilliant!

      Hee hee sure let me know how nyc goes ok? x

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  14. Judging by your Instagram pics, I see you had fun in NY! But I agree, after a holiday of rich eating and constantly eating out, all you want is your home and boring home food. Your pickles however, are far from boring. Beautiful.

    Nazneen

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    1. Aw thank you so much Naz! NY was SO fun, yes, but i was so ready for a bowl of somethign plain after that. Back to eating liek a pig after a week now though..

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  15. So so true about reverting to congee with the simplest of pickles...I love the idea of the beautiful sliced radishes.
    I hate to admit it, but I want nothing more than a bowl of plain oats after the Thailand trip! Ahhhhh I've just discovered your Instagram, silly me. Can't wait to catch up on your New York adventures. I'll pester you for recommendations when August draws near!

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    1. Ha you go for plain oats I got for plain congee! But yes, same idea there.

      I'll send you the recommendations now! Completely slipped my mind! x

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  16. Hi Shu Han,

    Stumble upon your blog a few days back. Great site and I just lurveeeee those simple little illustrations and diagrams that accompanied each post. Keep it up gal!

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    1. Thank you so much! This made my day :)

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  17. Wuuu wahhhh the choices of things I can pickle using this recipe is ENDLESS. Fun fun fun. I wanna be less boring and start pickling radishes too (usually only carrots and cucumber, yawn).

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    1. To be honest those two are my favourite to pickle anyway haha!

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  18. This is the perfect recipe to sweet pickle everything! And such a gorgeous and interesting blog you have!

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  19. Just wanted to say that while these 'quick' pickles are incredibly easy and delicious, they're not quite the same, nor as healthy as (truly) fermented pickles! Your article link talks about the health benefits of fermented veggies, like kimchi, sauerkraut etc. For fermentation, usually only salt is added, or whey, then it's left to do its thing. The veg becomes sour and crunchy after awhile (few days at least), and at the same time chock full of healthy bacteria. Quick pickles are of a totally different nature, adding vinegar and sugar for flavour, usually ready in an hour or two, also without any additional nutritional benefits.

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    1. Hello! I just thought to include a link about the health benefits of pickles at the bottom since I was going on about all that on top and since there are links to the recipes for kimchi etc. It is different from the quick pickles I shared though- I'll go make things clearer in a bit. Thanks so much for pointing that out! :) x

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  20. Hello Shu Han, I just wanted to stop over and say hello. I was just visiting Charles Website. Love your sweet Asian pickles. My favourite! I am currently living in HK. Looking forward to keeping in touch. Take Care, BAM

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    1. Thank you so so so much for coming over, I love Charles' blog too. Keep in touch x

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