June 19, 2009 2:45 PM
Pickled Jalapeño Kind of Gal

I am not one to carry a bottle of hot sauce in my bag wherever I go. I do have an uncle that proudly does. Wherever he travels, his Tabasco sauce eagerly jumps out of his bag and splashes its somewhat flavorless heat on whatever food it happens to come across. Yep, fancy restaurants too. 

Now I know... Mexicans have the reputation of loving to eat everything with chiles. I admit this to be true. As Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, Spanish priest, defender of indigenous people, and chronicler of early colonial times said in the XVI century: Without chiles, Mexicans do not consider they have eaten. Hmmmm... the same can be said today. With the caveat, that it's not just the heat that we crave.

Most Mexicans are picky chile eaters. Since we have so many varieties, and such varied and distinct ways to use and prepare them, we can exquisitely discriminate how and what we pair them with. We love their different flavors, textures, fragrances and personalities. It is like considering different kinds of fruits. So my uncle is more an exception than the rule.

All this to say, without any excuse, that although I am not a hot sauce bottle kind of woman, I am a pickled Jalapeño kind of gal.

But I do have my limits... just like reasonable limits most pickled pickles kinds of people have. They may eat a pickle with different kinds of sandwiches; how about a schnitzel with mashed potatoes; it sounds good with a thick and juicy veal sausage with sauerkraut; and of course a fresh bagel with lox... But it would be surprising to see pickled pickles kinds of people eat them with a bowl of Spaghetti Marinara.

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(Photo of Jalapeños, carrots and onions macerating in kosher salt in pickling process)

I don't want to judge, people should eat whatever they want along whatever pickle or salsa they want. But it does make sense to have some guidelines to help us define and enjoy the world we live in. So no pickles with ice cream for me. And no... my pregnancies were not an excuse for that either. 

Yet, it was really funny to see the surprise on my friends faces when we walked into a Pizzeria in Cape May about a month ago, after I asked the Pizza man if he had pickled Jalapeños as a side or as a topping. His face was not only as surprised as my friends' were, but it also gave me the quick and definite answer. NO! (which really felt like an are you crazy woman?). 

So there you go, if I were to move to a part of the world where there are no pickled Jalapeños, or fresh Jalapeños to pickle, I would bring my own (along with a can of chipotles chiles in adobo sauce and a jar of homemade salsa verde).

When Mimi and David, a couple of our surprised friends, invited us to their house for a homemade Pizza party this coming Saturday I asked "what can I bring, please?". But then, I couldn't help but say "instead of the salad... can I bring some homemade pickled Jalapeños?". Ok, that wasn't very polite of me..

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(Already pickled Jalapeños in their glass jars, ready to go to our friends' house)

Let me please explain: Pickled Jalapeños may not work with everything, but they do work on an incredible number of things: sandwiches, tortas, quesadillas, as a side to scrambled eggs, enfrijoladas, grilled meats, rice.. I could go on... Oh! My Colombian friend Tamara, just as plenty of Mexicans do, nibbles on them right out of the jar.

The important thing here is that they are spectacular over Pizza. So much that Pizzerias in Mexico typically offer them as an optional topping.

As promised in my last post, here's my favorite way to pickle your own Jalapeños. They tend to be pickled with other vegetables like onions, garlic and carrots, which is what I typically do. There are other versions that add other ingredients like previously boiled baby potatoes, green beans, cauliflower and cactus paddles... Wonderful as well! Feel free to play with the ingredients that wink an eye to you.

One of the wonderful things about pickling, is that aside from not being complicated, it brings out certain characteristics of the ingredients you are working with in an unusual way and it also prolongs their life in that stage.

This recipe makes a big batch, because they are likely to go fast, and also because since it takes a bit of time to make them, I like to make a bigger amount. They will last ages in the refrigerator if they don't go as fast as I predict. And next time you eat Pizza, give it a try! If you don't want to make them, there are many brands in most supermarkets that sell them already canned and delicious.

NOTE: I don't typically recommend the use of gloves for cooking, but since this recipe involves cleaning quite a few chiles, you may want to use gloves. If you don't and your hands burn a little, wash them with warm water and soap, or rub them with a spoonful of oil, or soak them in a bit of milk, sour or heavy cream or ice cream. Any of those methods should take care of it, as they help dilute capsaicin the somewhat oily substance which contains the heat in chiles. 

Pickled Jalapeños (with Carrots and Onions too!)
Makes about 15 cups

3 pounds Chiles Jalapeños, rinsed, sliced and seeded
3 pounds carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced
1 pound white pearl onions or large scallions, white and light green parts only
4 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
15 to 20 garlic cloves
1 cup safflower or corn oil
2 cups white distilled vinegar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
15 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoons brown sugar
2 cups unseasoned rice vinegar

To Prepare
Rinse the Jalapeños, remove the stems, slice in half and scoop out the seeds(Since they are quite a few chiles to clean you may want to use gloves). Place them in a large mixing bowl. Rinse the carrots, remove their tops, peel and diagonally slice into about 1/4" thick. Place in the large mixing bowl along with the Jalapeños. Peel the pearl onions of the outer dry skin and add into same bowl. Sprinkle all these vegetables with the salt, toss around and let them sit for about an hour.

Place the white distilled vinegar in the blender along with the water, peppercorns, cumin seed, whole cloves, bay leaves, thyme, oregano and brown sugar. Puree until smooth.

In a large, deep and thick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking, for about 2 minutes. Carefully add the salted vegetables, reserving their juices, and fry for about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring here and there, until they begin to soften.  Add the garlic cloves, and cook for 2 more minutes.

Carefully add the vegetable reserved juices, along with the white distilled vinegar mix and the rice vinegar. Let it all cook for about 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat and let it cool.

Place in a container with a lid and store in the refrigerator. I like to use glass jars. For some reason they seem to taste even better. Let the vegetables pickle for at least a day before eating. They will keep for months, if you don't finish them before...