Preserving Chilies

Sambal Oelek (Chile Paste). Get the recipes in The Complete Guide to Pickling by Julie Laing.
Sambal Oelek (Chile Paste). Photograph by Andrew Purcell.

Just like the cabbage I wrote about last week, chilies feature heavily in my pickling cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling. I pickle and preserve them on their own in recipes ranging from Beer-Pickled Jalapenos to Spicy Vinegar and from quick-pickled Chile Rings to fermented hot sauces. I also drop them into many of the savory pickles in the book and even a few of the sweeter ones, like Jerk-Spiced Banana Pickles.

Do I preserve so many chilies because we grow more than 40 pepper plants every year, or do we grow that many plants so I have boxes of chilies? It’s hard to say, but at least half of our homegrown peppers carry a mild to a fiery heat. Jalapenos and poblanos take up much of the hoop house space, but I bump up the Scoville scale with serranos, bird’s eye chilies, habaneros, and cayenne peppers.

The mix varies each year—as does the quality and size of the harvest. After buying and pickling pepperoncini to test for a new recipe for the cookbook, I grew some of these mild chilies for the first time last year. They started turning red when they were smaller than my thumb, so I pickled them in pint jars. This year, a plant from Swan River Gardens has grown taller than the cherry tomato cages and produced peppers longer than my index finger. Two half-gallon jars are stuffed full in my fridge, and more peppers are ready to harvest.
Read more about preserving chilies and learn to make Sambal Oelek (Chile Paste)

Preserving Cabbage

Preserving cabbage. Get the recipes in The Complete Guide to Pickling by Julie Laing.
When Americans think of pickled foods, they often start with two vegetables: cucumbers and cabbage. For both types, the options extend far beyond basic dill slices and sauerkraut. I included 11 cucumber and 7 cabbage pickles in The Complete Guide to Pickling, ranging from quick pickles to relishes to ferments.

In the cabbage category, curtido has become one of my favorites. This pickled cabbage slaw originated in El Salvador and typically combines cabbage, onion, and oregano, sometimes adding other flavors like carrot, chili, garlic, lime, and cilantro. It comes together in just 20 minutes, but letting it sit in salt for a couple of hours to draw out the vegetables’ natural liquid keeps the mixture from becoming watery. After it sits another 6 hours, the curtido is ready to eat—but it keeps in the fridge for several weeks.
Read more about preserving cabbage and learn to make Eight-Hour Curtido

Fermented Pickles

Fermented Pickles. Get the recipes in The Complete Guide to Pickling by Julie Laing.
Fermented Pickles: Fermented Red Onions and Half-Sour Dill Pickles. Photograph by Andrew Purcell.

My love of pickles jumped several levels the moment I tasted my first batch of fermented pickles. I grew up with some delicious pickles: homegrown veg stuffed into jars, covered in vinegar brine, and sealed to enjoy all year. And I share many of those classic family recipes, some with modern twists for safety or flavor, in my new cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling. But I must admit: If you want to make truly amazing pickles, ferment them.

I talk a lot about fermentation in my new book. Whether you’re new to fermenting or have already fallen for salt brine, be sure to check out Chapter 1, where I explain the differences between vinegar-preserved and fermented pickles and walk you through my fermentation process, step by step; I also describe some of my favorite fermenting ingredients and tools in that chapter and offer many shortcuts for simply using what you already have in your kitchen. Then flip to Chapter 4 and drool over the recipes for fermented pickles. But don’t stop there. As you become more familiar with the book, you’ll realize that I’ve sprinkled fermented recipes throughout the remaining chapters of the book: Scratch-Made Sriracha, Fermented Rhubarb Pickles, Tepache, and more.

Many people feel nervous about fermenting because of its wild nature. But really, it’s one of the simplest ways to pickle food. Once you know what to expect in terms of time, appearance, and smell, you too will likely become hooked on the texture and flavor of fermented pickles.
Read more about fermented pickles and learn to make Chinese-Inspired Brined Beans

Fresh Pickles

Curried Green Tomatoes. Get the recipe in The Complete Guide to Pickling by Julie Laing.
Curried Green Tomatoes. Photograph by Andrew Purcell.

When most Americans think of pickles, they think of what I’ve gathered into the Fresh Pickle chapter in my new cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling: vegetables pickled in vinegar and either stored in the refrigerator or canned in a boiling water bath. The recipe list for that chapter includes some pickles that are likely old favorites (Kosher-Style Dill Pickles and Water Bath-Processed Beets) but also some fun, possibly new-to-you flavors (Curried Green Tomatoes and Szechuan-Spiced Cucumber Rounds).

But some of my new favorite fresh pickles fall in a later chapter of the book: Sweet and Fruity Pickles. I was surprised by how much I loved creating the pickle recipes in this chapter, because I generally turn up my nose at pickles labeled “sweet.” But that term is usually applied to pickled vegetables, like cucumbers and beets, that my brain doesn’t register as needing to be sweet. Fruit is a different story: whether I’m adding sugar or relying on the natural sugars within a fruit, my taste buds find that sweet and fruity pickles balance beautifully with the tang of vinegar or salt brine.
Read more about fresh pickles and learn to make Fresh Pears with Lemon