In college, I occasionally worked at a small café tucked inside a local art museum. It was a ladies-who-lunch scene, and the food was brought in by a local caterer. The menu was what one might expect for that crowd—chilled soups, tea sandwiches, and dainty salads. Accompanying every entreé was a pile of tangy yellow squash laced with diced red bell peppers; it was our signature side.At the end of my shift I would shamelessly consume every leftover sliver of squash, stopping just before actually licking the bowl clean. I constantly begged our chef for the recipe, but her lips remained sealed. Well then, if she wouldn't give me the recipe, I would just have to come up with it on my own. (Too bad I couldn't even turn on an oven back then.)
Years later, when I had taken to the professional kitchen myself, I made a running list of all the notable dishes I'd ever tasted, along with all the interesting things I wanted to try. I still painstakingly update the same Word document, constantly adding inspiration with every new idea I find. That simple side dish has always been high on the list, and with a pile of squash on my counter just begging for a purpose, it seems the time has finally come.
My taste memory of it has blurred over the years, but I do remember the sweet-tart flavor and crisp-tender bite. A little cookbook research brought me to a number of canning recipes for "pickled squash," and while my intentions weren't for preserving purposes, the ingredient lists all seemed on par with the recipe I was aiming for. It was a start.
Whether my mutation is the same concept as that little café, I guess I'll never know. But what I did make is definitely good. Instead of following proper canning procedures or letting the squash marinate for a minimum of 24 hours or even a week, I just poured the whole batch into Tupperware and let it chill until cool. I even tested a few different versions to get my ideal sweet and sour balance, and I modified various recipe methods to suit my own needs.
While pickled squash is technically a condiment, my recipe is intended to be a side dish or summer potluck salad—and it's ready to eat in just a couple of hours. When it was ready, I strained the vegetables from the brining liquid and filled up assorted mini glass jars to serve. Talk about simple presentation!
Besides being great all on its own, I'll definitely will throw these "pickled squash" on my salads and sandwiches, and maybe a burger or two. As with most condiments, the possibilities are endless.
Pickled Yellow Squash
Makes 3 cups squash (strained)
2 pounds small yellow squash
1 sweet onion, preferably Vidalia
1 small red bell pepper
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground mustard
Slice squash into very thin rounds. Remove both onion ends, peel, and cut in half lengthwise. Slice 1/2 of the onion into very thin strips, reserving the other half for another use. Seed and finely dice the bell pepper.
Toss squash, onions, peppers, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Add a handful of ice cubes and just enough cold water to cover. Stir well to combine, and set aside for thirty minutes.
Rinse the vegetables well and place in a colander or sieve to drain. Meanwhile bring the vinegar, sugar, and ground mustard to a boil in a small saucepan. Immediately remove from heat, stirring to make sure the ingredients are dissolved, and allow the vinegar to cool for 3-5 minutes.
Gently pat vegetables dry with a towel and place in an airtight container. Pour vinegar over the mixture, tossing a fork to make sure all the slices get soaked. Cover and refrigerate until cool. Strain from brine before serving.
Related: Southern-style Pickled Shrimp
(Images: Nealey Dozier)