Soup, Scarves and SF

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

To begin this bold (not very) adventure (sort of) in blogging, I thought I’d post some of the recipes I performed over the holidays, as they are oft-requested and good standbys that I love. The first of these is one of the most instantly-gobbled things in our house, pickled red peppers.

I was standing in the store just before Christmas with about two dozen red peppers in my hands, and a woman looked at my AWESOME SHINY RED TREASURE and said “Traditional Christmas peppers?”

“Actually, yes,” I replied.

And I explained about my Russian husband, and how the foods he finds comforting in winter are not necessarily the ones Americans do, and that’s just fine because Russian comfort food is made of the tears of Marxist angels and is delicious. I pickle peppers for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Dmitri’s birthday, because it’s a bit labor intensive but so worth it. Only trouble is that we eat them all at the speed of RIGHT NOW, so rarely do I even bother with traditional canning, since they won’t last long enough to need it, and also quite frequently the hot liquid seals the jars on its own.

Pickles are definitely something I have learned to embrace. We really think of pickles in the US as being cucumber-based and that’s it, but Russians (and many other cultures) will pickle anything that looks at them sideways. This is a big part of how people used to be able to have vitamin-loaded vegetables in the winter, how we survived the snow. I often wish restaurants who pride themselves on local fresh produce in the summer would experiment with local preserved foods in the winter. It’s how we used to live.

This is such a human thing. It even looks like the Temperance tarot card, pouring water from one vessel to another. The jars are so bright and rich-looking, and while, yes, boiling vinegar is not the most awesome thing to meet your tear ducts, on any given day of the week, I would rather have pickled peppers and korjiki (Russian fried bread) than chocolate.

On to the how!

You will need:

  • 20 or so red peppers
  • 1 head of garlic
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 3 cups water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 golden retriever

First, get a whole bunch of red peppers. I suggest bell, as the long pointed ones will only make you cry when  you see how much they reduce in volume through roasting. I usually end up with about 20 peppers, but that’s only because it’s how many glass jars I have and how many can fit in my oven at once. You’ll have a little brine left over at the amounts I’ll list, so feel free to increase everything by about 1/3 if you want lots. If you don’t increase, though, you can store the brine and have it for easy pickling for either other vegetables (shredded carrots are great with some soy sauce and garlic and szechuan pepper) or for more peppers when you end up staring sadly at an empty jar.

Cut all peppers in half and gut them, removing the pith, stem, and seeds. Place peppers face down on cookie sheets and drizzle or spray with olive oil. (I have one of those air-pump oil aerosolizers, it works great.) Roast at 350 for 1 hour. Let them cool down enough to handle and remove all the skins. Feed the skins to your golden retriever and tear the pepper meat into julienne-type slices. Put them in a bowl and set aside.

While the peppers are roasting you should prepare the brine and the mix-ins. As I’ve said, you can pickle anything, but this is my tried-and-true combo.

Peel one head of garlic. I really like garlic, so I never skimp. You will learn this as we go along. If you don’t want to be Mrs. Garlic in the Lily Family parade, reduce to taste. You can also throw in a teaspoon or two of coriander seeds as I did this Christmas–they are spicy and interesting, but don’t overdo it, anything you put into the pickling jar will bloom flavor-wise in the final product. Stir it into the bowl of roasted peppers. Other possibilities: pomegranate seeds, red onions, shallots, scallions, crystallized ginger, candied lemon peel–really, anything. Grind some fresh black pepper over the lot and mush together. (I also like more black pepper on everything than sane mortals. I will always say to taste because what I think is good is crazy.)

Preparing the brine:

Mix all the liquid ingredients above, bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve, and then shut off the heat. Let cool about 20 minutes.

Now it’s time to put it all together. Rinse jars in hot water to avoid shattering the glass, fill 2/3 of the way full with pepper mixture, then pour brine to the shoulder of the jar. Screw lids on tightly and let them sit overnight–they will very likely seal themselves. You can do this in tupperware and skip the jars if you plan to serve them immediately. But the jars are just so pretty. And I feel like Little House on the Prairie.

I try to give these guys at least 48 hours to develop. Given our hunger for peppers, we can rarely wait longer. If you are not a PEPPER MACHINE, please use standard canning techniques to make sure these keep safely. It’s just that I’ve never had to.

The best pairing for these strips of wanton redness is korjiki–fried bread. And now we get into the part where we are NOT hardcore old-school Russian countryfolk. Because yes, we could make the dough from scratch. That’s true. We could be that awesome. But we have jobs and we really like watching Dexter in the evenings and I will do almost anything to avoid the rolling pin portion of cooking. So instead of pounding dough on a granite slab while the Siberian wind and/or Yetis bay for our blood outside, we could go to the local Italian market (Micucci’s in Portland, ME in our case) and grab some raw pizza dough, roll it into slabs roughly the size of a child’s head, and fry it up in a pan with sesame oil until it turns dark golden and bubbly and crispy around the edges. IMPORTANT: this bread is so addictive you may be tempted to tear into it right away but IT WILL HURT YOU. IT IS VICIOUS. How I know that I shall not say. Let it cool and tear into chunks, loading each bit up with pickled peppers, and you can thank me later.

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43 Comments

  1. You never cease to amaze me. It is also really perfectly timed because I’ve been having the urge the pickle something for a few weeks now.

  2. Kat–yay pickling! You can pickle sweet stuff, too, like cherries or pears. I usually ramp down the vinegar a bit for the sweet ones.

  3. Hello! This was fun to read. My pickling/canning experience is fairly limited. In cleaning out my deceased mom’s house we came upon a couple dozen new-ish canning jars. Was going to freecycle them, but maybe …

  4. Oh god this sounds so delicious. I love pickled things, but as a person who is self taught in the kitchen the idea of making them intimidated me.

    I also have always imagined spacemen must eat a lot of pickled things.

  5. Hey, give it a shot! You can always wash them and freecycle them after.

  6. Don’t get me wrong, with the canning step added you can seriously kill someone if you don’t seal everything up right. But I’ve never had anything last too long once it was pickled. ;) Give it a shot–it’s just measuring and heating and cooling. Science!

  7. I pickled a bunch of my father’s homegrown Hungarian hot peppers over the summer, when they were threatening to take over his garden and devour the world in spicy form. I found it a GREAT mesh between my parents’ cultures – my dad the sometimes-gardener, and my Ukrainian mum.

    Also, I just now put up a whole bunch of beets. They’re not truly pickled, but they’re marinated and canned, and delicious. Russian winter food for the win!

  8. This sounds absolutely wonderful! I will have to try it!

    Perhaps I can rent a golden retriever for a day. I don’t think my cats would be terribly appreciative of red pepper skins!

  9. The skins actually really remind me of…er…condoms. For a tiny red spicy man. They are just the same consistency and thickness, and you peel them off…hrm.

  10. Oh wow, this sounds amazing. I’m going to give it a go, never pickled anything savoury before (just broke into the pickled pears I did in autumn, though, and they’re bliss).

  11.  
    TeaOtter

    One of our nearby (other Portland) eat-local restaurants does all their own drying, pickling, and preserving in the summer. The walls are lined with shelves filled with gleaming glass jars of pickles and jams, with strings of onions hanging from the ceiling.

    Have you ever tried brining apples? They end up fizzy if you do them right. If you do them wrong, they end up as moldy lumps, but we only had that happen once.

  12. Definitely going on the list. One of our projects in the coming year, especially in the spring and summer when market season hits, is to start canning things. (Things that are not jam. We already can things that are jam.) We’ve got a friend/neighbor with a proper pressure canner for maximum not-dying, and the more recipe options the better.

  13. Oooh, a pressure canner sounds awesome.

  14. I’ve never tried it! I’m not a huge fan of apples, though.

  15.  
    Destructo the Mad

    …and sprinkle with Golden Retriever to taste?

  16. Retriever is for eating the skins!

  17. It actually looks like the pickling process negates the need for a pressure canner (really just a pressure cooker with a canning rack to keep stuff off the bottom), so you are able to can pickled peppers with a standard water bath canner (big pot with a rack, as above).

    Ordinary peppers without the pickling solution have too low an acid content to be safely canned at normal pressure, and need the above-212F temperatures that a pressure cooker provides to kill the botulism.

    Or so a few seconds of clicking the internet suggests…

  18. I am so intrigued by this! Pickling and preserving and canning fascinate me in that “what nourishes you also destroys you” way–I mean, botulism is SRS BIDNESS. This seems like an easy way to start.

  19. Mwahahahahaha.

    *makes note of korjiki*

  20. Mad–I feel totally justified in my pizza dough shortcut as that’s how D’s hardcore Russian father makes it.

  21. As a complete canning-virgin, I have a potentially silly question to ask: What size jars do you use for this?

  22. So, I use what I have? Which is one big jar and two of the 12 oz ones for this recipe size. You can use whatever you like, just follow the 2/3 stuff, 1/3 water rule.

  23.  
    StephanieB

    So pretty! And I can tell just by reading your recipe, so delicious! I’ve pickled cukes and carrots but not peppers yet. I can every year for holiday presents, and always make enough for the household too. The pretty jars of pickles, red onion jam, and apple butter on my shelf make me feel prosperous and productive. I know they make the recipients happy, because they give me back clean empty jars with hopeful looks on their faces. This year was pretty low key–just pickled baby carrots and a super-easy cranberry apple jam. I first pickled carrots last year on a whim and we ended up keeping most of them for ourselves because they were so awesome.

    I also have a strange passion for canning jars. They’re the most useful kitchen tool there is. You can freeze foods in them (half a shelf of our upright freezer is usually taken up with homemade chicken broth in jars), store leftovers or staples in them, use them as measuring cups, mix up dressings and sauces in them, and, if like me you lack class (or so my grandmother would have said of anyone doing such a thing), you can drink out of them. The short wide-mouth half-pints make great ice cream bowls. I give bouquets of flowers from my garden in canning jars with a pretty ribbon tied around the threads. And of course, you can can with them. Canning jars are wonderful.

    In terms of canning safety, I’ve always understood that the risk for high-acid foods is low as long as you follow recipes and instructions carefully. Don’t substitute vinegars of different acidity, count water bath time from when the water boils not from when you put the jars in, follow the recipe (spices you can of course tinker with, but lemon juice is in jam recipes for a reason), use clean, fresh ingredients, etc.

  24. OH MAN do you have a bread machine?! Because it will make the dough for you, and you can just go off and read a book or learn the cello (a very little bit, unless you unexpectedly become a cello savant in approximately 2.5 hours) or whatever you like–and then when the dough is ready, it beeps at you so politely (or in a way that is, um, penetrating and wrathful, depending) and you can TAKE IT OUT and MAKE THINGS. Unfortunately, a rolling pin is still required, which probably makes this comment basically useless. I just…have a semi-unhealthy affection for the bread machine my mom’s got and for the concept in general, and now I have to go snuggle it and apologize for these months and months of neglect.

    (You can make chocolate bread and it is so good, sooo good, you just dump all the ingredients in and hit “go” and then you come back and THERE IS BREAD! IT IS FOR YOU AND ONLY YOU, unless you are surrounded by people you like an awful lot, in which case I guess you could share if you’re some kind of martyr or something! IT WANTS TO BE FRIENDS WITH YOUR STOMACH.)

  25. We got one for Christmas–I do know this is possible, but the pizza dough is so good….

  26.  
    Notthegirl

    Ooooh… I’d never considered canning pickled peppers (However, I should have considering Peter Piper.). I’ll have to make sure to plant red peppers in the garden next year. It will fit right in with all the rest of the canning I do.

    Cool blog!

  27. Oh, man. I love the peppers you served at Thanksgiving, but Ferrett does not like pickles or peppers (or most vegetables, for that matter) and making them just for myself seems rather silly. [sigh]

  28. If he’s learned to love fruit, maybe one day…but why not make them for yourself?

  29. One of the in-flight magazines I read on my year-end jaunt around the country was talking about what the Nordic cultures are doing with locavore gourmet kinds of things, namely that they’re capitalizing on their unique foods (like puffin and reindeer) and also doing a lot of pickling, drying, salting, and preserving. I can’t pull up the article, but apparently, like all good movements, they have a manifesto. It sounds really interesting, and now I just need to figure out how to structure my life such that eating my way around Europe for a couple months is a practical thing to do. ;-)

    Pickled peppers sound tasty. Maybe I can persuade my housemate to grow some peppers in our little city garden next summer.

  30. Ooh lordie this sounds amazing. I love that fried bread – anything with sesame really. And / or garlic and / or black pepper and enough vinegar to bring the long-dead back to life screaming for dinner. In Lebanon things are picked in the summer and fall for winter, and the pickle juice – especially that of pickled beets – is administered in the winter to ward off colds. Very sensible use of deliciousness. Can’t wait to see what else you do here!

  31. So I got all this canning stuff (pressure canner, how-to book and everything) for my birthday. I still haven’t used it, mostly because I’m waiting for the abundance of veggies that will come from our garden next season… hopefully. This first gardening season was mostly to get the hang of gardening and having good gardening practices.
    Next year, I’m hoping to grow enough peppers to do this.
    I’d like to pickle more things.
    That sounds weird.

  32.  
    the Dormouse

    Sooooo, if you put them in tupperware, how long do you think they would keep in the refrigerator? Because I think I have to try these long before I will have the ability to cope with acquiring canning jars or anything like that. Like maybe TOMORROW. Wow.

  33. Dormouse–about 2 weeks.

  34. … do you know if this recipe scales down to, like, one-jar batches? Because *every single other person who lives here* *refuses to eat home-canned or pickled anything*. It drives me screamingly mad. People are always giving us jars of pickles and jam and things (my household won’t even eat JAM which nothing that can kill you GROWS IN and in which mold is OBVIOUS), so I have to eat all the presents myself or feel terribly guilty. Which, on the one hand, more yummy things for me. On the other, AARGH.

    So I don’t do much home canning/pickling because FRUSTRATION. But this sounds like a recipe that miiiight scale down to a point where I could just make one for me and eat it, which would be nice.

  35. Sure, totally. Just keep the ratios the same on the brine and you can make as much or as little as you want. Discard extra brine or keep for further pickling. This is basically pouring liquid over vegetables. It scales up or down as you like.

  36. Can I have more info on how to cook the Russian bread? Do I turn the cooker on high or on low, how much time is it supposed to take, how much oil one should use, stuff like that. Because all my instincts are telling me bread baked in a frying pan, out of a stove will turn out burnt on the bottom and raw on the inside, and bread cooked in a frying pan with oil will end up either soggy and gross from all the oil or stuck to the pan after the oil evaporates. My instincts are clearly wrong, but I’d appreciate some extra details on the whole procedure.

  37. I noticed something a few years ago — I get intense craving for pickles of all kinds during winter. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Russia. My grandparents used to do quite a lot of canning for the winter. I never got into pickling myself, but now that I don’t have a Russian deli right next door, I might try making these! They look awesome and delicious.

  38. Sure. I guess winging it is just second nature around here.

    You’re not baking bread in a pan, you’re frying it like a pancake or flatbread. Roll it out somewhat thin, about 1/2 an inch. Fill pan (we use a crepe pan) with oil so that there is about 1/4 inch of oil standing. Heat til it smokes, put bread in. Like a pancake, again, fry until it’s golden brown, if the oil is hot enough that should only really be about 40 seconds. If you don’t want them to bubble too much, as they puff up a lot, poke holes in the cake with a fork. Really just treat it like a pancake and you’re good. A pancake in a lot of oil.

  39. Him learning to love fruit would be an even more surprising accomplishment! There are some veggies he will eat, just not that many.

    I suppose I could make them for myself, but there is something about canning that feels like is should be…communal. That it should be for the benefit of the family, not just one member. That there is a sense of sharing involved. That’s probably left over from the years in my childhood when we actually did can, and then the jars were all stored in my great grandmother’s cellar (she lived across the street from us), and I would have to walk over with the big old skeleton key and let myself in and fetch jars off the shelves for our whole family to have at dinner.

    Canning for one seems…lonely. Less like the communal rite of feeding family and friends and more like hoarding.

    It’s a strange little prejudice, and one that I will try to overcome next summer when the farmer’s stands are filled with lovely produce. But there is a small part of me that will no doubt persist in finding it a little sad.

    (Despite this morose romantic streak, I really have no claim to a Russian heritage at all!)

  40. Cat – At home, I’m sure I will be using the pizza dough trick. At work, though, I have minions! Ones trained in the production of various doughs! Mwahahahaha!

  41. My grandmother used to pickle all manner of things – her squash pickles were divine, though she used a sweet recipe. I really want to try this now. My husband is all about old-schoolness and homey things. He attempted to make pickled peppers over the summer by putting them in a jar in the fridge with vinegar (bless his sweet little heart, he does try). I think he’d be allllll over this recipe. His grandmother probably even has canning whatsits somewhere in her House of Many Wonders

    I suspect that I’ll have to actually make dough for the fried bread, however, as we don’t have a place to purchase such things in this crap town unless Papa John’s wants tol sell us some dough.

    Also, I will be substituting Miniature Pinscher for Golden Retriever.

  42. Cat,

    I made the bread this weekend – we made pizza dough in our bread maker :) IT was perfect and wonderful. Thank you for sharing it :)

  43. Have just put up my first jar. I had to divide the peppers into batches to cook, and I scorched some of them, so that first jar was only about 3/4 of a jar, but I’ll try again tomorrow. Also tomorrow: asparagus!

    In the interests of SCIENCE!, I feel I must report that lab-newf mixes are every bit as good as goldens at disposing of pepper skins at high speed.

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