It's happened to all of us, that moment you find yourself staring blankly into the open refrigerator knowing that somewhere in there is the perfect little snack but having no idea what you really want. Maybe something sweet, or are you in more of a salty mood? Tangy always goes over well, but wouldn't it be nice just to have something to crunch on? Spicy or spiced? There is only one answer to your taste buds' tribulations: the pickle. One of the few foods capable of satisfying nearly every craving all at once, the humble pickle deserves a second look.
At its most basic, pickling is the process of using a combination of salt and/or acidity to preserve food. With the addition of herbs, sugar, and spices we move beyond merely preserving and into a realm of true culinary delight. While the word "pickle" is used almost exclusively for pickled cucumbers here in the states, nearly anything you get in your CSA basket can be enhanced with a bit of brining. Cauliflower, green beans, carrots, turnips and beets all make lovely pickles. But why limit yourself to vegetables? Some of my very favorite pickles are made with fruit. From watermelon rinds to mango, coconut to figs, fruit pickles are where it's at. My personal favorite is a perfectly purple pickled grape.
I start with 1 pound of red grapes, 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar, a heavy pinch of kosher salt, 1 cup granulated sugar and a sweet/spicy blend of vanilla bean, cinnamon, bay leaf, mustard seed, black peppercorns, and cloves. Other delicious spice possibilities would be red chili flakes, star anise, ginger, or allspice berries.
To start, cut a small slice off the top of each grape to expose the flesh inside. This will allow the brine to diffuse into the grape more effectively. Next place the spices in the bottom of a non-reactive container and combine the vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan.
Bring the vinegar mixture to a boil and then pour over the grapes and spices.
Transfer the container to the refrigerator and chill at least two hours before serving. Waiting a full day before eating is hard, but worth the wait for additional flavor. These beauties are perfect on their own, in salads, or as a classy accompaniment to wine and cheese.
There's just one spot left in our upcoming Get Pickled cooking class tomorrow at The Chopping Block Lincoln Square. Join us to learn all about how to pickle!