I had a wonderful meal at the restaurant Bar Tartine in San Francisco a while back. One of the many highlights was the first thing on the table: a delightful array of brine-pickled vegetables served up in jars gathered on a rough wooden tray. Read on for three recipes from this repertoire and a few hints on how to create a pickle platter at home.
Each pickle had a distinct taste, from the spicy but earthy carrots in turmeric to the bright, dilly (and also spicy) green cherry tomatoes. Nick Balla, Bar Tartine's talented chef, has developed more than thirty kinds of brined pickled vegetables which he rotates onto his menu, depending on what's in season.
It's no surprise that Mr. Balla has introduced pickles to his 3-star restaurant menu given the influence of Japanese, Hungarian and Northern European cuisines on his food. These great pickle-making cultures have a long history of preserving vegetables in brine to create a pickle that is complex in flavor and good for digestion.
Making your own pickles is easy and a lot of fun. Since they need to be prepared well in advance of serving and eating, they make an excellent no-fuss, pre-dinner appetizer. Just stuff your pickles into serving-sized jars and cluster them on a tray, with forks for fishing and maybe some sliced crusty bread with sweet creamy butter for balance. A thin-sliced, very dark bread would be good, too.
What should you drink with them? Beer is always a good choice or do as Mr. Balla does and serve with a glass of sherry.
Nick Balla's Salt Brined Pickles
From Nick: This is a fermented pickle which naturally sours creating a unique flavor and providing probiotics/lactic acid which is good for the digestive system. We usually use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to 1 cup of filtered water for our basic brine.
What you will need for each batch of pickles: A large glass jar (around 1 gallon) or a ceramic crock A plate that fits flat into the jar/crock for weighing down the vegetables Weights that can sit on top of the plate to help keep the vegetables submerged.
Carrots with Turmeric and Onion 2 tablespoons minced serrano chili 2 tablespoons turmeric powder 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1/2 bunch crushed dill 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper 8 cups peeled baby carrots 2 cups thinly sliced onion
Watermelon Radish 1 bunch crushed tarragon 1 small piece crushed ginger 8 cups of 1/4-inch sliced watermelon radishes
First add the spices and herbs to the jar, then the vegetables. Pour the brine over vegetables just to cover and gently mix for even distribution of ingredients. Place the plate on top and add the weights to keep vegetables below the surface of the liquid. You may want to cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band to keep out insects.
Store between 50 and 60 degrees while fermentation takes place. Check the pickles every day - skim any mold and be sure vegetables remain below the surface of the liquid. Fermentation can take from 6 days to 2 weeks. When vegetables taste sour, transfer to your refrigerator. Allow to mellow for 1 additional week before serving.