August 19, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 17
Pickled Vegetable Jars from our 2015 Turkey Culinaria.
Photo from our Oldways Culinaria to Turkey in March, 2015.
Mediterranean Pickles
Pickling is a universal cultural food tradition - truly an old way of preparing food. We started pickling thousands of years ago as a practical, necessary way to preserve food for survival. Now that we have refrigeration and produce available year round, it's become a way of preserving culture and taste. Kimchi in Korea, sauerkraut in Eastern Europe, and gherkins in the UK are all invaluable to their respective traditional diets. In the Mediterranean, olives, preserved lemons, capers, and various pickled vegetables reign supreme. 

Put simply, a pickle is a food preserved with salt, salt water or vinegar. The distinct acidic, tangy and satisfying crunch of pickles comes from microorganisms converting the food's carbohydrates to organic acids during a process called anaerobic fermentation. Fermentation is the same process necessary to make yogurt, cheese, leavened bread, cured meat, and alcohol. 

Creative pickled vegetable combinations, such as giardiniera in Italy, typically containing onions, carrots, celery and cauliflower, or tursu, a similar pickle in Turkey, are often eaten before the main meal as a crunchy, salty appetizer. Pickled vegetables can also be added, chopped, to sandwiches, wraps and salad dressings. 

Capers, a real Mediterranean treat, are usually found jarred in their pickled form, preserved in vinegar. They are actually the flower buds of the caper bush, and they add a salty bite to Southern Italian salads, pasta dishes, and sauces, as well as to many Provenšal dishes. In Pantelleria, an island between the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia, capers are cured in salt rather than vinegar, and they are a delicacy there. 

Fish can be pickled too. In Spain, pickled fresh anchovies, or boquerones en vinagre, are a popular tapa, especially in the summer because they don't require cooking. Another more widespread way to preserve anchovies is to salt them in brine, and then pack them in oil or salt. Flaked tuna is also often added to mixed pickled vegetables, or used to stuff them before pickling. 

To make your own quick-pickled vegetables:
  1. Pick your vegetable. Choose vegetables that are naturally firm and fresh. Fresher vegetables will have higher water content, which means more vegetable juice for your pickle. Eggplant, broccolini, cucumbers, turnips, cauliflower, onions, and many other vegetables are pickled in the Mediterranean.  
  2. Chop. Cutting up your vegetables creates more surface area to absorb the salt or brine. Cut them any way you like, just be sure they are in equal-sized pieces.
  3. Salt. Lightly salt the vegetables and pound or squeeze them to release some of the juices, or make a brine and soak them. 
  4. Pack. Place the vegetables in jars and cover them completely with the brine liquid. Put them in the refrigerator and let the pickling process begin.
  5. Wait. These pickles are good to eat after two or three days and can be enjoyed for up to two months. Store in the refrigerator.
Alternatively, buy (or make your own) canned pickles for your pantry. Keep them on hand for days when you are out of fresh vegetables or need to add a little extra flavor to your meal. Try them in the recipes below.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

Aglio e Olio (literally "garlic and oil") is an Italian classic and a perfect dinner for nights when you are running low on time and fresh ingredients. This version uses preserved anchovy fillets, a Mediterranean pantry staple. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of Positively Good For You

Capers are the lifeblood of the diet in Pantelleria, Italy, an island between the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia. They are the main seasoning for this traditional salad. Pack it for lunch or serve it with fish for dinner.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Elizabeth Minchilli

Chef Ana Sortun credits her travels abroad in Turkey as a major influence in her cooking. She serves this tapenade, made with dry-cured black olives and capers, at her award-winning restaurant, Oleana, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Chef Ana Sortun for The Oldways Table. An Oldways photo. 

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.