With Scandinavian cuisine growing in vogue during the last few years, the humble practice of pickling has become all the rage. At first, I didn’t even care. Now I am a heavy user. Although I would consider myself someone born and raised in pop culture (1982 – when, as you know, Andy Warhol fell in love with Duran Duran at a Blondie concert), a part of my splitted personality (a 1950s housewife I imagine to be going by the name of Mildred) is always apprehensive about trends, especially when it comes to food. Also, apart from a recurring gherkin binge and a nostalgic fondness for my mother’s pickled zucchinis, I never gave much thought to sour veggies. But as so often with everything pop, sooner or later, you give in. At first you do not even realize that you have, followed by a phase of denial, until you just accept that from now on, you will be a pickle-eater like everyone else.
My first and to this day favorite pickle is sticking with both tradition and the pop theme, giving it an 80s vibe: it is severely neon-colored and it is prepared in a plastic (fantastic) freezer bag. Apart from style, the main reason for this is practical, of course: even a small amount of pickling liquid goes a long way when you put everything in a bag, plus you can knead it to speed up the pickling process. And there’s an added bonus about which I will tell you below.
The result is fabulous on its own, as a pick-at staple in your fridge (where you can easily keep it for a few days, albeit this is not a long-term conservation kind of pickle). On top of that, it is great for zhuzhing up leftovers (imagine your cold Thanksgiving turkey sandwiched with this) or even non-leftovers: eat this on top a concentrated beef shank stew with dumplings for some crunch and – well – punch, or with some cold smoked fish (such as halibut, piled with pumpernickel, dijon-mayo and lots of dill).
With pickling liquid I like to be on the slightly sweeter side, but then pair it with vegetables that have a natural mustardy sharpness to them, like radishes and cabbage. Of course you can use this for pickling whatever you like, the same goes for the spices you use. I go for allspice as the star, because to me it is (apart from cardamom) the one spice that says „Scandinavia“ like no other.
Neon Crunch & Punch Pickle
Active time: 40 minutes, cooking: 5-30 minutes, resting: >= 30 minutes.
1 cup malt vinegar
2 cups brandy vinegar
1 cup water
2.5 cups raw cane sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
1.5 tsp whole allspice
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 star anise
1 middle-sized young pointed cabbage
2 red onions
1 bundle of radishes
1 Put the spices in a dry pan and toast them on medium flame until they start crackling and become fragrant. This makes them more aromatic and extracts the flavor better later.
In a medium sized (non reactive) saucepan mix water with the vinegar(s), salt and sugar, add the toasted spices and let it come to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then let it stand and cool down while you carry on with the vegetables.
The longer the liquid stands, the more the spices can give their flavors to it, of course. But this works also with a shorter time, especially since you can freeze this liquid and reuse it several times, enriching its flavor with the aromas of whichever vegetables you pickled in it (much like a sour northern European take on a Chinese master stock).
2 Wash and shred the vegetables and put them into a zip lock bag. Pass the pickling liquid through a sift and directly onto the vegetables. Close the bag and make sure all air is pushed out. Put the pickle in a coolish place and let it stand for at least 30 minutes, longer if you can. I found that 3 hours makes for a perfect balance of softness and crunch in the veggies. Strain before serving.