We've been drowning in cucumbers around here lately, and much as I once loved the Asian Marinated Cucumbers recipe from last summer, well, it turns out familiarity really does breed contempt.
I never want to see another container of those marinated cukes again. Ever. Well, at least until next summer, that is. I mean, they ARE delicious and they do make the consummate snack for a sweltering summer afternoon. It's just that after 25 or so batches of them in a month's time, well...
The thing is, July turned out to be a lost month for me, so instead of putting up batches of pesto, freezing tomato sauces, and the usual summer harvest preservation activities, I have madly pedaled the race to try and use up our farm bounty before anything has a chance to rot on me. This tends to be a losing battle, of course, unless I employ each and every one of my OCD tendencies, and that has gone about as well as one would expect. Especially after the July we've had.
The day after I posted about that lovely Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate recipe, my appendix waged a sneak attack against me and by nightfall, I had three shiny new scars on my belly and an ugly little hospital bill to contend with. I was further shocked to discover just how little one can accomplish when one cannot use one's own abdominal muscles. And it is even more atrocious how much fresh-picked produce can decompose during the cook's painkiller-induced fog.
By the time all was said and done, four pounds of beets had been tossed into the compost heap, along with countless tomatoes, and two giant bags of cucumbers that had managed to grow beards of mold. Since those devastating losses (the produce, that is, not the appendix), we've lived on vegetable plates for dinner nearly every night, and when I found myself with yet another plethora of cucumbers, I dove headfirst into a towering pile of recently clipped seasonal recipes.
Something had to be done, and I was in no mood for a long, sweaty day of canning.
Before I had made a terrible mess of my desk, I lucked into a page on quick pickles that I had cut from the August issue of Food & Wine magazine, and while pickles don't tend to get me terribly excited, the very first recipe on the page was for Spicy Dill Quick Pickles. Look, if the word 'spicy' is in the title of a recipe, sans any other words that might pertain to meat of course, my interest is piqued. And this one was an exquisite little specimen, with an ingredient list that would not only NOT require a trip to the store, but would use four items that I had recently received in my CSA boxes.
This is the stuff love is made of.
So The Big Boy and I rolled up our sleeves, parked Little Miss Piggy in the pantry where she would be free to pull tea bags out of tins, upend boxes of granola, and rearrange the shelves (for the 973rd time that morning); and we commenced to pickling. And five minutes later, we had two quarts of these babies tucked into the fridge to do their thing for the next 24 hours.
I salivate over recipes like this. Ones in which you chop a few things, do a little stirring, and then stand back and let the industrious little ingredients finish the work on their own. If only dinner were so easy...
The jars were a thing of beauty. The quartered cucumbers were standing pertly on their ends, swimming in clear vinegar, and interspersed with sprigs of bright green dill, oodles of floating coriander seeds, cloves of garlic, and gorgeous halved chili peppers with their little stems still waving prettily. I must have opened the refrigerator door 17 times over the next few hours just to smile at them.
They were THAT sultry.
And so it was that I had barely finished my coffee the next morning when I just couldn't handle the wait any longer. I opened up one of the jars, inhaled the heady fragrance of the vinegar and dill, and chomped directly into one of the pickles, and oh my sweet stars, you know those little flying hearts that encircle the characters' heads in cartoons when they fall in love? I saw them.
The pickles had that crunch that is ALWAYS missing from store-bought pickles, and tasted perfectly of summer. They just oozed freshness. And the flavor had that elusive balance that I usually can only dream of. The pickles were a little tart, a little spicy, and just salty enough.
Like I said, this is the stuff love is made of.
And just as soon as I get up the nerve, I'm going to take a big bite out of one of those chili peppers that are floating amongst those pickles.
SPICY DILL QUICK PICKLES (makes 2 quarts, adapted from Food & Wine)
- 24 oz cucumbers, quartered (if they are terribly seedy, trim off a little bit of the seedy part and discard it)
- 3 Tbs kosher salt
- 2 Tbs sugar
- 1 1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
- 2 Tbs coriander seeds
- 6 large cloves of garlic, halved
- 4 to 6 long red or green hot chile peppers, halved lengthwise (you can use a mixture of cayennes, serranos, jalapenos, etc)
- 1 oz fresh dill sprigs
- Pack cucumbers into two 1-quart glass jars.
- In a medium size bowl, whisk together the salt, sugar, vinegar, coriander and garlic until the salt & sugar have dissolved.
- Divide the brine amongst the two jars, pouring it over the cucumbers.
- Add one cup of water to each of the two jars, adding a little more water if the cucumbers are not totally submerged.
- Tuck the chiles and the dill between the cucumbers.
- Close the jars tightly and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. The pickles will ostensibly keep for up to a month, but I don't see how they would possibly last that long.