Friday, June 26, 2015

Making Picalilli by Lacto Fermentation

My Sauerkraut with Apples, Caraway and Dill
A couple of days ago I wrote about the adventure of putting together my first-ever batch of home fermented sauerkraut. Not "pickled" as in vinegar and heat processing, but true ferment, allowing the salted cabbage to ferment on its own, on the counter. If it was cold, this process could have taken a long time; 6 months or so. As it is, with temps in the 80s and 90s here, even air conditioning will not keep the house cool enough to ferment anything for that long. It is supposed to yield a far tastier end product when fermenting in a very cool time. For now, I am happy with the results of my first experiment. 

I keep mentioning that I got the book The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix
Katz. I was hooked from the beginning - from the intro or forward! I am not remotely being paid to say this. I became interested in the idea of fermenting foods, though I knew nothing about it, when perusing Amazon for something else. I got interested, searched through myriad books on the subject, read a zillion commentaries and finally settled on ordering this book as possibly the one I would like most as a start. In that, I was absolutely correct. This book was my own discovery, and one I am completely taken with at the moment. It is highly recommended - by me!

The very following day, I headed to the grocery store and came back with a cauliflower. I like cauliflower, most particularly in the Guatemalan style or with Indian Green Masala slathered on pieces and grilled. However, at this point in time, the fermenting bug had bitten, and I am well-hooked. I cast around looking for what to combine with what for tasty ideas. And somehow, totally out of the blue, the word "picalilli" popped into my mind.

So what the heck is Picalilli?

I had only the very vaguest idea of what picalilli was that day. I had no real idea of what went into it, how it was made or what it might taste like. Still, to find out, I went online. Searching high and low, I came up with an idea that in the broadest sense, the British may have come up with this as something mimicking Indian "pickle". I won't even bother going into what an Indian Pickle might be in this blog, but suffice to say that in just about every recipe I found for picalilli, cauliflower was prominent. After that, the additions seem to be completely at whim. Some of the vegetables I saw added into picalilli are broccoli, carrots, green beans, onions, garlic, cucumbers, cabbage, bell peppers and the list probably continues, but you get the idea. 

My Fermented Picalilli
Flavorings for picalilli are almost always mustard powder and/or mustard seeds and turmeric. After that, again, additions can be diverse. Traditionally, picalilli is cooked, and has flour added to thicken it into something like a corn relish or other thickened relishes. Some picalilli is made very finely chopped in order to spread onto sandwiches, while others are made in larger chunks to eat alongside something. Either way, it is a condiment.

My idea to make picalilli raw and fermented was just a whim, one of those light-bulb moments. I decided to try it out. Some things I wanted to do:
  1. chop the vegetables finely
  2. add in coriander seeds
  3. add a tiny amount of honey
  4. add in some fresh ginger
  5. add some fresh jalapeno
Since it would not be a cooked and thickened condiment, I figured I would try chopping very small so it could still be added onto a sandwich (maybe with some mayo to kind of hold it in place). I like the flavor of coriander seed, and it is common in Indian dishes, so I wanted that flavor. I love fresh ginger, so while that may not be common, I felt it would add something. The jalapeno was a whim, since I had exactly one in the fridge that needed using. Honey - I didn't want the mixture sweet. I have been having difficulties with my blood sugar numbers so I am avoiding sugars lately. My last dessert post (something featuring using sugar) was on May 31st, with a Rustic Rhubarb and Apricot Tart. I still crave sugar, but am avoiding for now. Considering the amount of vegetables I chopped for my picalilli, I used about 1 tablespoon of honey. This was partly as a sort of starter, though I did want just that tiny touch of sweet.
Picalilli and sliced tomatoes for lunch

After putting the whole batch of vegetables into a large jar and covered it with brine, I sat back and wondered if I would even like this - and if not, I was going to have a whole lot of something I didn't care for that I would have to eat. The fact that it contains both cauliflower and broccoli makes it absolutely and totally taboo for my husband. He is very firm in avoiding anything he thinks he won't like. As for me, I love cauliflower and broccoli and pretty much any and all cruciferous vegetables. The broccoli and cauliflower though need to be cooked, howsoever little! My digestion seems not to tolerate them raw. So once again here, I was really going on a limb in making this mixture. 

As it comes out, when I tasted it for the first time a few days ago, I was completely enchanted with the flavor combination. It did not taste of raw broccoli or cauliflower. I couldn't exactly say what it did taste like - again, as I have absolutely nothing to compare with, having never tasted fermented vegetables such as this, and never having tried picalilli! It turns out my experiment was a total success. The one jalapeno, with seeds left in, was enough to give the whole batch just a little bit of heat, completely tolerable and totally enjoyable. More could be added, of course. For me this is perfect, though I could tolerate more heat. Here is what I did:

Lacto-Fermented Picalilli

All vegetables, well pounded
makes about 1 3/4 quarts

1/2 cauliflower, cut in very small bits

1 head of broccoli, cut in very small bits
2 carrots, crated
1 onion, chopped small
1 fresh apple, chopped or grated
1 handful of green beans, cut small
1 chunk fresh ginger, minced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced, seeds left in
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 quart filtered water
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup whey (drained from yogurt)

2 types of meat pounders
Make the Brine: Combine the filtered water and salt with the honey and whey. The whey is not 100% necessary, but as it is a living culture, does help with jump-starting the fermentation. Stir until all the honey and salt are dissolved. You will likely not need all of this brine, but better to have enough.

Assemble all the chopped vegetables in a large bowl. Add in the turmeric, mustard seeds and coriander seeds. Squeeze the vegetable mixture repeatedly with hands or use a meat pounder or wooden mallet of some kind (piece of wood, round-ended rolling pin, etc). You should end up with about 2/3 to 1/2 the original volume of the vegetable mixture, once well pounded. This breaks down cell walls in the vegetables and allows the salty brine to penetrate more easily. 

Pack the vegetable mixture tightly into a large glass jar or a crock that will accommodate the vegetables, plus about 1 inch of brine to cover, plus a weight of some king to keep the vegetables submerged. Optimally, a container that will hold at least 3 quarts, so as to accommodate all this, plus a rise in liquid level as the vegetables release their own liquid, and then fermentation, that could cause bubbling up, and/or over the container, causing spillage. 

Pour the brine over the vegetables to cover by at least 1/2 inch or so. If you have a cabbage handy, use 1 or two outer leaves to cover the top of the vegetables, then set a weight on top. This can be a plate, with something heavy set on top to keep the vegetables down, or it could be glass weights (Crock rocks) found where lacto-fermentation equipment is sold, such as from Amazon. In smaller jars, I used the small glass stones often used for flower arranging (well washed), and tied them into a piece of clean hosiery as a weight. All equipment should be scrupulously clean, but not necessarily sterile.

How warm it is in the place where your picalilli will ferment, will determine how long it will take to ferment. If it is quite cool, as in a basement at 55 to 60 degrees, it could be many weeks (or months) before fermentation becomes active. If it is quite warm, such as my kitchen at high 70 degrees, it will take only days. I left my picalilli to ferment for about 12 days. I love the flavor at this point. During winter, I will try this in the basement and allow a much slower ferment to take place. Once it tastes good to you, it is ready. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.