Art of the Quick Pickle

December 14, 2009

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Photos by Emily Jones

Photos by Emily Jones

Pickling is a way to preserve food over an extended period of time, using salt or sugar to as a preservative. A “quick pickle” is achieved by  putting fresh vegetables and fruit in a vinegar to break down the cells with a short soak, allowing for quicker consumption. Over break, I was lucky enough to witness Mr. Wong, a pickle master, and now relay the process to you.

In this case, Mr. Wong was using a chayote squash: a cheap, crisp and an endless supply seems to be available from Mexico. The Chinese community calls this treat a closing-palm melon.

Center of the Chayote with pit

Center of the Chayote with pit

First you peel the outside, and since it is oblong I suggest a potato peeler instead of paring knife so  you will not waste much flesh. Some people experience discoloration of their hands from the sap in the chayote squash skin, but if you wash your hands immediately after or peel in a bowl of water, you should be safe.

Paring knife or chef's knife whichever works for you.

Paring knife or chef's knife whichever works for you.

Peel along the bottom where the skin crinkles and slice the chayote in half.  Inside the chayote is a small pit that can be removed with a spoon. Turn the chayote flat side down and slice into pieces thinner than 1/4 inch, so they look similar to apples.  Salt the sliced chayote and leave to sit for five minutes “to remove vegetable taste” says Wong. Rinse off the salt and drain; let sit until sauce is complete.

Chili pepper with salt and black bean.

Chili pepper with salt and black bean.

For the sauce: start out with a small clove of garlic and about an 1/8 teaspoon of chili pepper from the jar (Super 88 in Boston has a Korean chili pepper with a little more of a kick.  When looking for chilies, Wong suggests avoiding long lists of ingredients with preservatives – simple is often best.) Mince the garlic clove and peppers together to make a paste.

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

Elina Lindberg, 3, eats quick pickled Chayote squash Saturday night.  She contined to eat though the spice from the chili made her suck in air to cool off her tongue.

Elina Lindberg, 3, eats quick pickled Chayote squash Saturday night. She contined to eat though the spice from the chili made her suck in air to cool off her tongue.

Put chili-garlic paste in a bowl, whisk with 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons brown sugar and a drizzle of sesame oil, and some freshly-ground black pepper. Taste your sauce to make sure it has the preferred sweetness and tang. Pour over the chayote and let sit for two minutes or serve immediately with a little garnish of toasted sesame seeds as hors d’oeuvres with tooth picks.This “quick pickle” is perfect for a light appetizer or a guiltless afternoon snack.