All Pickled Out

Last Labor Day weekend, 60,000 people converged on beautiful San Francisco to attend Slow Food Nation. I was one of them, except I was working behind the scenes at the Taste Pavilions, at of all places, the pickles and chutney booth!

The 50,000 square foot pier at Fort Mason was transformed into 15 distinct pavilions where tasters could sample regional food products from across the U.S. hand-picked by ‘curators’ who are nationally recognized experts on various types of food. The Taste Pavilions represented Beer, Bread, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Fish, Honey & Preserves, Ice Cream, Native Foods, Olive Oil, Pickles & Chutney, Spirits, Tea and Wine. I have to say they did a fabulous job, not just with the food but with the décor as well. Some of the Bay Area’s most celebrated architects and artists worked pro-bono to design each booth. (I have pictures but need to figure out how to upload them from my phone! For now, please visit http://slowfoodnation.org/blog/2008/09/02/taste-pavilion-photo-gallery).

While I got to walk the cavernous exhibition space housing the Taste Pavilions and breathe in the foodie-charged atmosphere for about 15 minutes, I spent most of my five-hour shift pinching pickles into little sampler cups. Sandwiched between Gudrun (she writes the blog www.kitchengadgetgirl.com) and DeeAnne (she owns Pig and I Farm), we chatted as we worked, making the time pass by quickly. I did also get to sample some yummy pork rillettes slathered over tasty Acme bread, woodfired pizza with an herby white-sauce base (sorry, I inhaled it so quickly I don’t recall what else was on it), paprika-marinated octopus with spiced chickpeas, pickled sardines, and pickled trout. Oh, and more pickles than I can ever hope to sample in my lifetime: kimchi, curtido (a Salvadorean cabbage and carrot relish steeped with cilantro and jalapenos), lacto-fermented sauerkraut, Sichuan cabbage pickles, beet and red cabbage pickles, and cabbage and fennel pickles (made by Barbara of Picklopolis). Can you tell it was a cabbage-based session?

Just in case you’re curious, it’s a funny story how I got involved, and a perfect example of just how amazing the Internet is at connecting people.

Pickle and chutney curator extraordinaire Michelle Fuerst was surfing the web looking for a small kimchi producer when, lo and behold, she came across my blogpost on kimchi. She emailed me asking if I knew anyone. I didn’t but we became friends and I volunteered to help Michelle out at the event.

On Saturday, I finally got to meet my internet friend in person. She’s just as lovely in real life as in cyberspace. Check her out in this podcast interview. Anyways, I brought along some Indonesian pickles with me which was to be served on Sunday evening with rice, eggplant pickle, lemon sun pickle, and a carrot pickle.

For those who’d like to try it at home, here’s the recipe.

Indonesian Turmeric Spiced Pickles (Acar Kuning)

DSCN1436 by you.

I made about a gallon of this yellow-tinged, flavor-packed, sweet and sour pickle for Sunday’s event but unless you’re feeding a crowd or really, really love acar, who wants to make such a humungous amount? Using a conversion factor (new/old quantity=conversion factor; I learned it during my first culinary arts class at the Monterey Bay Peninsula College!), I calculated this recipe for a smaller, saner batch.

Time: 1 hour plus waiting and steeping time
Makes: about 4 cups

5 pickling (Kirby) cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into julienne pieces
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into julienne pieces
1 teaspoon salt
8 Asian shallots, or 3 small red onions, coarsely chopped
3 candlenuts, crushed
2 cloves garlic
1 plump stalk lemongrass, trimmed and coarsely chopped (or 3 tablespoons thawed frozen ground lemongrass)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar or to taste
2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
Salt to taste
1 cup cauliflower florets
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/4 cup chopped red pepper
4 Thai red chilies, chopped, or to taste
2 salam (Indian bay) leaves
Two 1/4-inch slices fresh galangal, smashed

Place the cucumber in a colander and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let it sit over the sink for 30 minutes to remove excess water. Rinse, drain thoroughly, and set aside. Repeat with the carrots.

Place the shallots, candlenuts, garlic, and lemongrass in the work bowl of a food processor and whirl until finely chopped to confetti-sized bits. You don’t want the shallots to be too watery.

Preheat a large wok over medium heat and swirl in the oil until it thins out and starts to shimmer. Scoop the lemongrass paste into the wok and sprinkle with the turmeric. Using a spatula, scrape the bottom of the wok and toss and turn the paste until the shallots turn pale and translucent, there is no trace of raw garlic, and the paste is a few shades darker, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Stir in the vinegar, sugar and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired and take off the heat.

When the pickling mixture has completely cooled, add the cucumbers, carrots, and remaining ingredients. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more water if there isn’t enough of the pickling mixture to coat the vegetables. Toss to coat and transfer the pickles to an airtight container. Cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.

Fish out the bay leaves and galangal and serve the pickles cold, or warm over fried fish.