Thursday, July 31, 2014

Pickled Vegetable Manifesto

In my twenties, I learned a lot about cooking, and I gradually acquired a good collection of kitchen tools. I tried things, I bought stuff, and I read a lot about the hows and whys and whats of cooking, which means I spent a lot of time learning about other people's priorities in the kitchen. I bought (and almost never used) a mandoline, a food mill, a mortar and pestle, some excellent cake pans and a garlic press. I also bought (and still adore) an immersion blender, a sturdy whisk and a couple of great knives.

In my thirties, I've spent more time learning about my own priorities in the kitchen. Am I the kind of cook that needs the tools to bake every possible dessert? I am not. My realistic annual baking output is fifteen batches of muffins, twelve dozen cookies, three pies, and something less than one whole cake. I clearly do not need to own any cake-specific tools. I like to be able to make a nice dessert. I do not need to be able to make all the nice desserts. I only make piecrust a few times a year, I kind of like to hand-slice cabbage for coleslaw, and my immersion blender makes excellent pesto. And so I have happily given away my poor, unappreciated food processor and I'm about to de-aquisition my mandoline. The waffle iron has gone back to the thrift store from whence it came, and if I ever change my mind, I know where to go to get another one.

I must admit, however, that this has not been a completely efficient process. I got rid of my sushi-rolling mat about a month before I realized that homemade sushi has quite a lot going for it (tasty, cheap, flexible, exciting, healthy). But three dollars for a new sushi mat seemed like a reasonable price to pay for cleared-out cabinets and a spring in my step.

I want the tools I do keep to be both useful and also actually used. One of my favorite recent additions is a handsome set of nesting enamel baking dishes. I have roasted chicken, baked casseroles, served grilled fish, made brownies, and tossed salads in them. They're pretty, sturdy and easy to wash and store. I have three favorite pans that do almost everything I need to do on the stovetop (and two junior auxiliary pans that I keep around for very particular reasons: frying dumplings, and cooking a single scrambled egg).

I've been applying this cold-eyed realism to cooking, too. Which sounds like a terrible idea, I know, but bear with me. I'm just after the best ratio between kitchen-hours spent and tasty meals produced.

So, when I cook, I try to make not only the meal at hand, but also a few incidental meal starters, accompaniments, or add-ins that I will be delighted to find the next time I open the fridge at 4:30 in an inquisitive and hopeful way.

In that spirit, here are some flexible pickled vegetables that are culturally non-specific, so you can make a big batch and eat them with scandinavian-style sandwiches, alongside Indian curry, tossed into a salad, layered in a sandwich, or tucked into a burrito. So efficient (also, good).

Universal Pickled Vegetables

6 tablespoons white vinegar (as culturally neutral as you can get)
3 tablespoons water (okay, maybe water is even more neutral)
1 teaspoon sea salt (a fairly global commodity)
2 tablespoons sugar (ditto)

1 large cucumber, thinly sliced (peeled and seeded only if skin and seeds are tough)
1 sweet white onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, julienned or grated (I use this julienne carrot peeler all the time)
1 lemon, both zest and juice (or more-- the lemon is so good)

Mix the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Toss the cucumber, onion, carrot, lemon zest, and lemon juice into the bowl as you prep them. Mix well and refrigerate for at least six hours.


Lauren said...

This sounds like it would be delightful in banh mi, as well!

Anna said...

Yes, Lauren! And I had some with cold soba noodles, and some more with rice, fried eggs, sesame seeds! So good, so useful.