Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Quick Pickle - Easy Spicy Cucumber recipe

I haven't made this in a while, but when my neighbor's cucumber vine meandered over to my side of the fence, I knew exactly what I'd be doing with any bounty that grew on my side (and yes, she knows it's over here, and no, she doesn't mind).
This is the cucumber vine. The one I cut was hanging from that little piece of vine 1/2 way up

I have a real *thing* for fruits and veggies coming right off a tree or plant (could be anywhere, belonging to anyone) that I'm not really ready to share with you just yet, but suffice it to say that growing a few fruits and veggies in my own backyard just totally tickles me!  And, um, keeps me out of trouble...
Here's the first (and only) cucumber on my side, so far:

I think it must've weighed 2lbs?
The "recipe" isn't really a recipe, more of a technique.  I learned it from the amazing folks at The Q restaurant and bar (formerly called BarBersQ) in Napa, CA. If you are in Napa, you MUST go here.

The first time I was there, in 2009, they had pickled cucumbers as a side dish to their delicious barbequed meats, and I was so overwhelmed by the perfect blend of sour and spicy and crunchy, I had to get the recipe.

So, here is my version, because while I'd love to keep this as a secret weapon in my cooking arsenal, it's too good not to share.
cucumber (regular or English/hothouse. If you use an English cuke, peel every other strip off of it, for better flavor penetration).
red onion
jalapeno (fresh) OR some red pepper flakes.
a variety of vinegars: red wine, rice wine (unsweet), regular white, sherry, apple cider.  NOT balsamic.  Try to use at least 2 or 3 different ones, depending what you have in the house.  Sherry vinegar is particularly good, I'd make an effort to acquire that (also delicious in salad dressings, and in this fajita marinade I'll share with you).
seasoned salt (I use Herbemare) if you have it-- if not, regular salt is fine.
peel the cucumber (or peel every other strip, if it's an English cuke), cut it in half lengthwise (or quarters, if it's a monster like mine) and seed it, using a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds but not the firm flesh.
Cut into pretty fine sticks, and then across into small cubes or pieces. 
I used a mandolin slicer (like the one below) and a julienne blade, to get small matchsticks.

see the carrots? that's using the julienne blade (there's usually 2, a big one and a smaller one)

Cut enough red onion to give you about a third to half as much onion as cucumber. Cut into the same size as your cucumber, or slightly finer, if you didn't cut the cucumber small enough.
Combine the onion and cucumber in a bowl.
If you have a fresh jalapeno, cut it open, discard the seeds, and chop finely. Only use the seeds if you want it to be crazy spicy (which you don't).  Add to the cucumber/onion mix.
If you DON'T have a jalapeno sitting around (and unless I plan in advance, I don't), add a pinch of red pepper flakes. How much you use is up to you, but beware! The vinegar really brings out the heat (in my opinion) and letting it marinate develops that heat, so maybe use a bit less than you would think.  Like, start with 1/8th teaspoon and work your way up.
give the mix a sprinkle of salt (whichever type you are using).  A good 1/2 to 1 tsp.
Now add the vinegars-- you want to put in about equal amounts of the ones you are using, until the liquid reaches just about an inch or so below the level of the veggies in your bowl/container.

As I mentioned above, really try to get some sherry vinegar, it seems to make this dish (and the originator made sure to mention it to me).
Here are the vinegars I used. You could make it with 2 or 3, but make sure to use sherry vinegar.  And yes, I do have more vinegars that weren't appropriate for this recipe. 
Give the whole shebang a good stir, and cover (I make this right in one of those BIG Ziploc plastic containers instead of a bowl) and place directly in the refrigerator for a few hours, at least. Overnight is best.

The mix. I used pepper flakes instead of jalapenos.
I can't tell you how long it keeps in the fridge, because it's usually GONE in a day or 2.  I'd say they'd be fine for a week or 2 for sure.  I'd say longer, but you're not doing the whole hot-liquid, canning-jar thing.  And anyway, you'll eat it all up so storage isn't an issue :)
I can't do my regular nutrition analysis on these, since amounts vary.  But cucumbers are really low in calories, and onions aren't too bad, and you're not using any sugar.
OH-- if the marinade winds up too spicy, then do add a pinch of sweetener (splenda, xylitol, sugar, whatever you like)... that will counter the spiciness.

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