“He looks as though he’s been weaned on a pickle” – Alice Roosevelt Longworth (on Calvin Coolidge)*
Hello! It’s been a while. Sorry. I won’t pretend I’ve been terribly busy – I mean, some of you actually know me – but you know those weeks when you look up and suddenly it’s Friday and WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING ALL WEEK? Well, it’s been a bit like that. And it hasn’t been greatly assisted by my son deciding that he’s had Quite Enough Thank You Very Much of his lunchtime nap. Those precious lunchtime hours of calm, cheese and blog writing have been cruelly stolen from me. I was banking on keeping the nap until he was at least 13 so I am feeling pretty cheated if I am honest with you. To top it all off, any free time I have had this past week has been spent getting cross with artichokes because one very dear reader suggested I cover them for the Seven a Day ‘series’ and they are a bloody tricky thing that I have deliberately avoided for years but now feel compelled to master. I will not be beaten by a vegetable. No sir.
The inclusion of this recipe on the blog is something that I have actually debated quite vocally (with myself, in my head). The thing is, you see, I am not sure that it can be said that pickles are really that healthy. They might even be a bit unhealthy. Such was my fear that somebody might tell me off or attack me via social media with some science, that I did some research.
There is, not surprisingly as I did my research on the world wide internet, a lot of confusion between lacto-fermented foods (like sauerkraut and kimchee) that health people get wildly excited about (something about probiotics and B vitamins) and good old-fashioned vinegar pickled things, like these pickles and most of the various pickled items we buy in jars in the supermarket (these are fermented too, but it’s anaerobic fermentation in brine. I mean, duh. Keep up! Didn’t you do this at school?). Anyway, the upshot of my admittedly rather self-serving and cursory research is that pickling this way has some benefit because it preserves the fibre and soluble vitamin content of the vegetable you are eating and because it is thought that vinegar has some beneficial properties. HOWEVER, they are also pretty loaded with salt (and often sugar) and excessive consumption of pickled foods has been linked to certain cancers (interestingly, stomach cancer is most prevalent in China, Japan and Korea – countries we tend largely to think of as having low incidences of chronic diseases – and this has been widely attributed to their large intake of pickled vegetables (including those that are lacto-fermented). On top of all this was the fact that the picture looked very pretty, they tasted really very good and several people asked for the recipe after seeing them on Instagram. Do you see my dilemma, reader?
And so I decided thusly: stick the recipe up and people can decide for themselves. We are all grown ups, after all. I eat pickles occasionally and like them very much. I let my (freakish) toddler have them occasionally too. I don’t, however, eat them every day nor think that I can get most of my 5-7-10 a day from eating pickles. (I have very much enjoyed, as part of my ‘research’, the myriad questions on Mumsnet and Yahoo Answers which attempt to ascertain from the great internet hive mind how many of one’s 5 a day can be derived from pickled onions. See also tomato ketchup and Fanta. I ain’t knocking it – I love a shortcut as much as the next person – but Fanta? Really?)
These multi-coloured beauties are from the Supreme Queen of Australian Food Styling, Donna Hay. The Oct/Nov 2013 magazine issue, for any subscribers out there. I refer to her food styling capabilities as they are truly, truly, unparalleled and she has clearly influenced a whole breed of stylists, photographers and bloggers. This is not to denigrate in any way her recipes though- she is a great go-to source for simple, quick and increasingly healthy dinners. (She does love a chocolate caramel feature spread though, be warned). I get the hard copy via subscription (IT COMES ALL THE WAY FROM DOWN UNDER) as I really like an old school glossy food publication and they only come quarterly and are packed with recipes so I file them away like cookbooks. There are a few UK stockists of the magazine, but it is also available now as an iPad app thing in the UK and the US.
The brine has fennel and mustard seeds, black peppercorns and fresh dill and parsley and these (particularly the black pepper, for some reason) really elevate these to something very tasty indeed. More than your average pickle for certain.
Donna’s quantities are really quite absolutely bonkers though. She says that this will serve 4, with some sourdough and 200g of burrata (which is how we ate it – a very indulgent Meat Free Monday as we were getting a bit tired of the usual Monday night noodles). That is a lot of pickle and not very much cheese for four grown people Donna. I reckon it would serve 10. Quite seriously. There really are only so many pickles you can eat in one sitting. Yes, they will keep for a while in the fridge but they also aren’t something you want to eat very day for a week and anyway the radish skin turns everything pink by the next morning anyway.
* there is some ‘historical debate’ as to whether Alice Roosevelt or her dentist said that about Coolidge. Let us not dwell upon facts.
DONNA HAY’S VEGETABLE PICKLES
Crazy Ingredient Ratio: Low
As noted above, this makes rather a lot. I would estimate this to be around 500-600g of raw veg. It would easily serve 8 as a ‘condiment’ serving of pickles alongside salmon, cheese etc with bread or whatever you eat pickles with.
I cannot see any reason in the world why you can’t substitute whatever pickle friendly vegetable you like here as long as you broadly keep the same vegetable weight to brine ratio. I added some chopped up Swiss chard stalks as well as I had some to use up and they tasted great.
The smaller Lebanese cucumbers with fewer seeds are better here, as they are for pickles generally, but an English one with the seeds removed (or not if you can’t be arsed) is perfectly fine too. Donna probably isn’t going to come round and check.
I used a mandolin to slice the cucumber, radishes and the beetroot but a sharp knife would be absolutely fine provided you are at least moderately adept with it.
You will need:
- 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 lebanese cucumbers (or 1 english one, deseeded), thinly sliced
- 200g radishes, thinly sliced
- 2 golden beetroot, scrubbed briefly and finely sliced (skin on)
- 2 tbsp sea salt flakes
For the brine:
- 250ml white wine vinegar
- 110g caster sugar
- 125ml water
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tsps fennel seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- big handful roughly chopped parsley (about 1/2 a cup if you’re into cups)
- big handful roughly chopped dill
- Toss the sliced vegetables with the salt and put into a colander over the sink or a bowl for leave to stand for 20-30 minutes. Rinse well under cold water.
- Mix the vinegar, sugar and water in a large jar or bowl until the sugar has dissolved and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well.
- Add the vegetables. Stir to combine and pop into the fridge for at least half an hour before eating.
(Australian) Kitchen Song of the Day: Confide in Me – Kylie Minogue (Kylie Minogue)