I get inspired by food in various ways. Sometimes travel will inspire my path of meals and recipes, like my recent trip back to Santa Fe. A visit to a local farmer’s market is always great for inspiration, with their abundance of fresh and healthy ingredients. Other times I will find inspiration online, through a plethora of food sites, blogs and recipes.
But what inspires me most often, is what I already have on hand. Whether that be in the pantry, the fridge or in my own front yard, I try and maintain a fair amount of food staples at the ready. The ability to have choices allows for a more creative kitchen and table. Usually I will sit down over the weekend and ‘guestimate’ what we may have for meals the rest of the week. Depending on the season and weather, that will have the biggest influence on what get’s cookin’.
For example, if it’s 90 degrees outside (and therefore at least 80 degrees inside), the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven. A braise? No way. Casserole? Uh uh. And please, I love salads, but I usually don’t feel satisfied making an entire dinner out of one. And if you have kids in the house, you pretty much know this will never fly. A stove top or outdoor grill is always a good solution.
But back to the inspiration part. Last week I was putzing in my very modest garden, the last couple weeks of summer coming to an end, the produce following suit. The remainder of our ‘bounty’ was limited to a few bits of arugula, and some jalapeño peppers. I grew jalapeños this year because it is one of the few peppers that I can actually grow with some success here along the Central Coast.
With all past attempts at cultivating bell peppers, poblanos and various other types of caspius here, it’s just not hot enough for an extended season to get those babies to bust out. They start with the proper growth, blossoms and hearty stocks, then the peppers start to come in, and…
They just never get any bigger. Like they just got tired and gave up. So I gave up too. But jalapeños like it here. And I like them, so it’s been a good match.
However, my use of these little guys hasn’t really been all that, well, here’s the word again: inspiring. They fought so hard just to make themselves big and strong in my little garden, and all I was doing was dicing them up in guacamole. Or slicing a few in a quesadilla. Quite frankly, I think they were a little hurt. Yes, I have a strange relationship with food, I know this. I honestly believe food has a soul, especially food that is grown from the earth, with sun, water and nourishment. Vegetables have souls; yes. Yes, they do.
Last month when I went back to Santa Fe, one of my girlfriends brought over a jar of homemade bread and butter pickles, which she made from my recipe (which I can’t find right now, but I’ll make a post of it later, I promise). Basically, it’s vinegar, pickling spice, sugar, some oil and not much else. Kirby cucumbers are sliced in nice size chunks, the vinegar and spices are brought to a boil, then the chunks of cucumbers are packed tightly in a few mason jars, and the hot liquid goes inside for the ride. After a few days, you have sweet, tangy pickles.
Well, kirby cucumber season is long gone, but I’ve got some cute little jalapeños that might like a vinegar bath, so I gave it a shot. Since I had only a meager pound of peppers (which would hopefully be pickled perfectly), I threw in some carrots and onions too. If I had some fresh cauliflower laying around, I would have put some of those florets in the mix as well.
The recipe came together in about 15 minutes. And no, I didn’t bother with the whole canning process because honestly, for 2 jars of the stuff, I figured the sheer amount of acid from the vinegar and the refrigeration would ward off any spoilage for a couple of months.
I tasted the recipe after a couple days in the fridge. Meh. I was disappointed. Not much flavor from the pickling spice came through; the vinegar was really overpowering and hadn’t mellowed like I had hoped. Boo. I promptly placed the jar back in the cooler and forgot about it until today.
What a difference a week makes. Wow.
I was rummaging through the icebox this afternoon, trying to throw a quick lunch together while watching some football, when I spotted the jars. I knew I had some whole wheat tortillas and some good queso fresco in house, so I whipped up a batch of quesadillas.
I simply took out a few of the peppers, some carrots and onions, diced them all up and threw them into the tortillas with the cheese. As they seared in the pan, I dug my fingers back into the jar, plucked out a pepper and tasted.
The vinegar had mellowed as I had hoped. It now blended with the pickling spices to create an earthy yet bold hit. The heat from the jalapeños were serious, and they had spread their joy to the carrots and onions. This was a hit!
I can think of many great ways to serve this condiment. Throw some in a bowl the next time you make an antipasti platter. Tuck a few of these spicy treats in a panini before your grill it. Top your favorite burger or roast beef sandwich with a scattering of these delectable delights. Nachos? Oh yes. Jazz up a cheese pizza. Sprinkle some into your next batch of soup just before serving. One taste of these heavenly spiced bombs will hopefully convince you to ignore those jars of green grey, soggy ‘pickled peppers’ that have been camping on a shelf in your local grocery store for the last 18 months. Ick. Really.
These babies will make you sweat. They will make you smile. And when they are gone, they will make you sad.
The recipe below will make 2 pints of pickled vegetables. You can double this recipe if desired. And feel free to play with this recipe. Add some cauliflower, sweet peppers and baby corn to the mix. Get inspired. That’s the funnest way to cook!
Pickled Jalapeños and Vegetables – makes 2 pints.
- Approximately 2 dozen jalapeños
- 1 cup vinegar (5% acidity)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1- 1/2 tablespoons pickling spices
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks
- 1/2 onion, sliced thinly
- Puncture each jalapeño with a toothpick or skewer, 3 or 4 times. Pack the peppers, carrots, onions and any other vegetables you may be using tightly in pint size mason jars.
- Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil over high heat. Stir to combine well. Remove from heat and carefully pour hot liquid evenly into jars, to about 1/2-inch from the top of the jar. Seal with lids and screw tops tightly. (At this point, if you wish to make a larger batch and extend the shelf life, you can process them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Click here for canning tips).
- After mixture has cooled, place jars in refrigerator, and keep chilled. The mixture will be ready to eat in about 5-7 days. Mixture will keep refrigerated, up to two months.