How to make a natural pickle: dissolve 50 grams of salt in 1000 grams of water. (For those without a scale, use 3 tablespoons Morton's Kosher or 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal salt in 1 quart of water). Put vegetables in it and keep them submerged for a week at room temperature. Done.
The natural pickle, how I imagine it was done before shelf-stable canning was invented (late 1700s, effort by Napoleon, perfected by World War I, to feed troops), was simply salting what you wanted to preserve. If it were meat—pork or beef—you simply salted and dried it and it would keep forever. Pancetta, beef jerky, for instance.
If it were vegetables, you could salt them and let the water in the vegetables be drawn out to become the brine (the traditional method for preserving cabbage, sauerkraut). Or you can salt water and soak vegetables in it. The salt will prevent spoilage bacteria from rotting the veg and allow the natural fermentation process to begin, sometimes called wild fermentation: bacteria on the vegetable feed on the vegetable and release lactic acid.
Both the salt and the acid preserve the vegetable. Once it's pickled, it won't last forever in your fridge but it will keep for a long, long time, available as you need. It will also have become more nutritious in the process. I chopped up some of the above chilies and sprinkled them on my Thai coconut curry soup, a la Jean-Georges. Fiery! Loved.
Carrots, daikon, cukes, cauliflower, they all make great pickles. I prefer to pickle shredded cabbage this way—it's sauerkraut in a week. Kim chi is a wild fermentation that includes all kinds of spicy aromatics.
I posted the above photo on my facebook page and got many questions and comments so I thought I should post a proper recipe for people to refer to, to naturally pickle any vegetable they love. You don't have to boil jars, it's not a weekend-long project. You make a brine, submerge your vegetable, wait a week and it's done.
After that, you'll want to try adding garlic and herbs to your pickles, you'll want to make kim chi. You'll want to go wild.
The Best Books On Pickling
Want to dive deeper? Read Sandor Ellix Katz, who is the authority and expert madman fermenter in the United States, if not the world, not to mention social activist in the best ways. The man's a hero. His first book was Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (2003) is the classic, written with the passion of someone who has discovered a new universe and desperately wants to share it with you personally. He expanded his knowledge on all things fermented in The Art of Fermentation, which is encyclopedic in its depth.
If he has an equal (he doesn't but nor does Rene), it's René Redzepi who really formalizes the craft of fermentation, expanding our knowledge of it, and what can be achieved through fermentation, in The Noma Guide to Fermentation, by Redezpi and David Zilber.
If you're new, or just curious, start here:
- 1 liter water (or 1 quart)
- 50 grams kosher salt (or 3 tablespoons, plus a pinch, Morton's Kosher salt, or, 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt in the quart of water)
- enough cut up vegetable to fill a quart jar
- Put the water and salt in a measuring glass and microwave just until the salt the salt is dissolved. You may need to stir it. Let it cool to room temperature.
- Fill a quart Ball jar or other vessel with the vegetable to be pickled (peppers, shredded cabbage, julienned carrot). Pour the salt water brine over the vegetable.
- Now this is the important part: cover the vessel with plastic wrap. Place a weight, a small jar, a shot glass, any thing that will keep the veg submerged (air is the enemy).
- Put the vessel on a plate (the brine tends to bubble over after a day or so) and leave it in a cool place for 7 days.
- Taste the brine. It should be pleasantly sour. Taste the vegetable. It's pickled!
- Serve as a condiment, a garnish for anything needing acidity, from a salad, a soup, a sandwich, a sauce.