Sunshine on a gloomy day: Sweet, crunchy peppers from Elysian Fields Farm make delicious pickles to brighten August meals. I saved the fat jalapenos for fresh tomato salsa.
The first onslaught of fresh peppers, some sweet, some hellishly hot, has coincided with a spate of soggy days. Going outside is like being smothered in a wet blanket.
So why not stay in? It's a chance to get creative in the kitchen.
Sweet peppers are fun to play with. I crunch them raw, slice them into salads dressed with walnut oil and sherry vinegar, and roast them in the flames of the gas burner till they’re soft, smoky tasting and ready for Moroccan salads with cumin and olive oil.
Ditto for the hot ones. Fat green jalapenos can stoke the flames in fresh tomato salsa and coconut milk curries. I also love the milder heat of fire-roasted poblanos in pork and green chile stew although that’s a hearty dish best left for the cooler days of fall.
But yesterday, while the skies were gloomy, I tried something new: turning sweet peppers into spicy pickles. I made two pints: One with Indian seasonings and leaves from the curry plant that’s growing in the tropical garden, the other with lemon thyme and a curled cayenne pepper from the herb garden, along with strips of orange zest.
This morning I had them for breakfast, with toast and a bit of cheese...
What a surprise! The Indian-spiced peppers were faintly sweet and as I nibbled them, I could taste the cinnamon, aromatic coriander seeds and the burnt flavor of the curry leaves. The others, sweet and hot, were absolutely luscious, especially those nestled against the orange peel.
These are refrigerator pickles, which means that you don’t have go to all the trouble of sterilizing jars and making sure the seals are intact. And you certainly don’t have to wait more than a few hours to eat them, though they’re much tastier if you refrigerate them overnight. If you leave them for a few days, the peppers will be even more infused with the flavors of the spices and herbs.
Just be sure your jars are clean and that you leave enough space at the top of the jar so that the pickling liquid completely covers the peppers.
I’ve kept the proportions of vinegar and water fairly close (a little more vinegar in the sweet and hot pickles, less for the Indian version) so that the taste of the peppers won’t be totally obliterated. But if you like really sour pickles, feel free to increase the vinegar. Either way, the peppers should keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.
If they last that long: Sweet and hot, or mellow with Indian spices, these crunchy pickles are especially good with pork barbecue or grilled pork ribs. Serve a tangle of them alongside fried chicken, or tuck them into a grilled cheese sandwich, and you’ll be amazed by their lively flavor.
Here are the recipes...
Pickled peppers cooling outside: The Indian-spiced peppers with curry leaves are on the left, the sweet and hot peppers with a cayenne pepper from the garden are on the right.
Quick Pickled Sweet Peppers with Indian Spices
The cardamom pods and black peppercorns can be lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle. You can also put them in a ziplock bag and lightly tap them with a hammer. Don't pulverize them: the idea is just to crack them so that more flavor is released into the pickling liquid.
Makes one pint
3 or 4 sweet red and yellow peppers
1 very small red onion, thinly sliced
6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon dried ginger root, or 2 slices fresh ginger root
3 sprigs fresh curry leaves (optional)
2/3 cup rice vinegar
1-1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1. Wash and dry the peppers. Cut off the stem and top of each pepper and discard. Using your fingers, reach down into the pepper and remove seeds and membranes, and discard. Slice each pepper into horizontal rings.
2. Add the spices to a clean, wide-mouthed jar. Mix the pepper rings with the sliced onion and pack them all into the jar. Leave at least 1 inch of space at the top.
3. Using a chopstick slide the curry sprigs, if using, down the sides of the jar. Set aside.
4. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water and sugar over a medium flame. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Continue to heat until small bubbles appear on the sides of the pan.
5. Pour the pickling liquid over the pepper mixture, making sure that the peppers are completely submerged. Let the pickles cool to room temperature with the top off, then put on the top and refrigerate overnight.
Sweet and Hot Pickled Peppers with Thyme, Orange Zest and a Whole Cayenne Pepper
Makes 1 pint
3 or 4 sweet red and yellow peppers
1 very small red onion, peeled and sliced thin
½ teaspoon green peppercorns
3 large strips orange zest, white pith removed
Small bunch lemon thyme, or any other fresh thyme
1 fresh red cayenne pepper
1 cup rice vinegar
2/3 cup water
1. Wash and dry the peppers. Cut off the stem and top of each pepper and discard. Using your fingers, reach down into the center of the pepper and remove the seeds and white membrane, and discard. Cut the peppers into long strips about 3/8 inch wide.
2. Add the green peppercorns to a clean, wide-mouthed jar. Add the mixed peppers and onions, leaving at least 1 inch of room at the top of the jar. Using chopsticks, tuck sprigs of thyme and orange zest down the sides of the jar. With the tip of a sharp knife, make 2 or 3 slits in the cayenne pepper, then add to the jar.
3. Combine the rice vinegar, water and sugar in a small saucepan over a medium flame. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to heat until small bubbles appear on the sides of the pan.
4. Pour the pickling liquid over the peppers and onions, making sure that they are completely submerged. Let them cool to room temperature, then put the top in place and refrigerate overnight.