I started cooking a few weeks ago, and I guess I never stopped. I know, I know – I’m always cooking; but this was different. It was Monika Day, and the menu was extensive.
In case you’re wondering, Monika Day is my birthday. Not as in “oh, it’s my birthday, la di da, we’re going to eat cake for a week and make special meals and have all kinds of fun!!!” We’re much more selfish than that in my house. Your birthday is a bona fide holiday – no school! No work! Nina was born on New Year’s Day, which sort of set the precedent. Why on earth would I let her have all the fun?
umami bowls // sticky rice (warm, not hot) with white miso, toasted sesame oil, tamari, Thai chili flakes and scallions
Lacto-fermented probiotic pickle spears to accompany all manner of sandwiches, soups & chilis; sweet zucchini relish for Chicago-style dogs; spicy anise & Szechuan pepper pickle slices; the aforementioned shallots & sweet peppers. I stopped only because I ran out of things to pickle.
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Every batch of probiotic pickles I make starts out loosely following this Sandor Katz recipe, and then I vary the add-ins based on what I’m craving and have on hand. I usually make two half-gallon jars at a time – I just eyeball how many cucumbers will fill each jar, I never bother weighing them. I make the brine really salty to start (about 5%), then once the pickles have soured to my liking I pour off some of the brine and replace it with fresh filtered water before refrigerating them. I like to use small, knobbly pickling cucumbers. The variety I use depends on which of my saved seeds successfully sprouted, followed by whatever seeds looks good at my co-op or local hippie/hipster nursery in the spring. And then if squash bugs destroy my vines, I hit up the farmers’ market.
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To make the brine:
Dissolve 1/4 cup pickling or kosher salt in 5 cups filtered water.
Repeat as necessary depending on how many jars of pickles you’re making.
In each half-gallon jar I layer at the bottom:
4-5 large rinsed strawberry leaves
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dill seeds (fresh or dried)
Large pinch Thai chili flakes
Pickling cucumbers, enough to tightly pack into the jar
Rinse the cucumbers and slice off the blossom ends.
Layer items in bottom of each glass jar.
Pack cucumbers tightly into jar; large cucumbers may be halved.
Pour in enough brine to cover; you want to keep the cucumbers completely submerged. I use a heavy rock (pre-boiled to disinfect) to keep the cucumbers down.
Cover top of jar with a double layer of coffee filters or cotton cloth; secure with rubber bands.
Place jar in a dark, cool spot for fermentation to occur. Check the jar daily – if too much brine evaporates, add more brine or filtered water. If any sort of growth appears on the water’s surface, skim it off.
Taste the pickles after 4-5 days, and daily after that until they are soured to your liking. Move them to the refrigerator to slow down fermentation.
Yield: 2 half gallon jars
Prep time: 30 minutes | Fermentation time: 4-5 days, longer for a more sour pickle