ISTANBUL: If autumn means pumpkin spice, then how about pickles for winter? Let’s take a look at a classic, some would argue the perfect, pickle
Summer is essentially over and apart from making the usual tomato sauce, I love making pickles. Once you get the hang of it and find the right balance of salt that suits your tastebuds you won’t be able to eat any store-bought ones. I learned that the hard way!
Now this one is a true classic. All you need are cucumbers that have a significant shape to them. Their availability usually depends on the climate you live in. In Istanbul, where vegetables arrive from all over Turkey, you can see them in stalls as early as September, but for example, in the more rural areas, you may not be able to get your hands on them until later. This might throw your plans off for making the pickles but getting locally grown cucumbers is always better than those that may have traveled thousands of kilometers.
And as we are on the topic of cucumbers: You don’t need to have that exact type of cucumbers to make your pickles. The “smooth” kinds work just as well and the taste is almost completely the same. So in case you don’t want to wait for the other kind of cucumber you can at the very least have a test run with those.
An important factor is your city or country’s climate. As you know Turkey is quite hot compared to for example Germany or Poland in northern Europe. In such cold climates, you can get away with less salt than in warmer countries like Turkey. The recipe I’ll be sharing with you is optimized for here. I prefer to keep the pickles in a dark and cool spot but I avoid keeping them in the fridge before opening them as it defeats the purpose of pickling them.
Or so it feels to me at least.
One last note before the recipe: You’ll need rock salt, not your regular iodized table salt!
800 milliliters water
200 milliliters vinegar
2-3 tablespoons salt
mustard seeds (optional)
Before doing anything you’ll need to sterilize your jars. This sounds daunting, but it is not. You fill up a pot of water and bring it to a boil. While it is hot submerge your jar and the accompanying lid and make sure the water touches everything. Let that stay in the hot water for a minute and remove carefully onto a clean kitchen towel to let it air dry.
Wash your cucumbers and dill and peel your garlic cloves and arrange them in your jars. How much you want to add into each is entirely up to you but garlic gives a certain subtle taste and makes a good filler for those pesky corners too big for the cucumbers. Don’t be afraid to stuff it tight. The tighter they are stuffed in the better. You don’t want cucumbers floating in the jar after all. You can add mustard seeds as well if you like but it is entirely up to you. You can of course skip all the garlic, dill and mustard altogether.
Now mix the water and vinegar together with the salt and bring it to a boil. Once ready pour it into the glass. Fill it up completely and close it off with your lid. Make sure that the connection part, meaning the inner sides of the lid and the outside of the jar connected to each other, is dry! Now you only need to wait for about two weeks to crack your jar open and enjoy your very own pickled cucumbers!
While I did give you exact measurements the ratio is important here. The key is four to one. Four parts of water to one part of vinegar. I used my homemade vinegar, which is “weaker” than the commercially bought white one, but it turned out perfectly. If you have a feeling that your vinegar is too strong, don’t be afraid to tweak it to your needs.
My mum and I have been making pickled cucumbers for years and we have tweaked this ratio for quite a while but are happy with the result we achieved.
Why not beans?
You can pickle pretty much anything if you put your mind to it. A few weeks ago, I wrote about pickled grapes, so it is not out of the ordinary to make pickles out of green beans. To be precise, pickled broad green beans are a specialty of the Black Sea region. You prepare the water-vinegar-salt mixture the exact same way but you need to blanch the beans before tossing them in to make them more flexible and pickle more easily. Don’t overcook them as they will dissolve in the pickle water if you do. The best part of this is: You don’t even need jars. For years many have used soda bottles, of course properly washed out and sterilized, which made it easy to transport all around the country without the heavy glass.
These pickled beans go really, really well with onions that have been sauteed just right to the point of being slightly sweet. Then add the pickled beans and warm them up together. This sounds very simplistic but the beans and onions together make for an interesting dish. Pair it with some bread and you get yourself a quick snack or even a side on a bigger dinner table.