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~Summer Soul Salad: Pickled Cucumbers & Onions~

IMG_0310When I left you on Tuesday, we were discussing the zucchini population in my backyard garden. Today, we are going to discuss the "other" cylindrical, elongated, viney member of the gourd and squash family that creeps along the ground and produces vegetables at an alarming pace for a few weeks every summer:  the salad cucumber, also known as the slicing cucumber!

IMG_0295Like zucchini, cucumbers are made up of a lot of water, with cucumbers containing 90% water. That, is a lot of water.  Unlike zucchini, which require cooking to enhance their bland flavor and fibrous texture, cucumbers have a refreshing, pleasant, slightly melon-like taste, a crisp, juicy texture, and are delicious sliced and eaten raw.  

Both vegetables are at their best if picked when their seeds are still young and tender, about 8" in length, and, both vegetables should be refrigerated immediately after picking, and, kept refrigerated until just before using them (to prevent moisture loss and maintain crispness).

Are all cucumbers created equal?  Yes and No:

IMG_0288All cucumbers are theorectically salad or slicing cucumbers, but some varieties are better suited for harsh brining solutions and the canning process. Known as "pickling cucumbers", they are short and squat (instead of long and lean), have thinner skins, fewer seeds and sometimes have little bumps or "warts" on the skin.

While I like dill pickles, sweet bread & butter pickles, and, spicy gherkins too,  I like pickled cucumbers (also known as pickled cucumber salad) better.  How do pickled cucumbers differ? The process by which they're made and how they're eaten.  The process is quick and they can be eaten as a yummy side-dish-salad all by themselves.  Some people call it cheating, I call it:

Quick-pickling!  It's not the same thing as pickling/canning!

PICT0196Pickling per se is equivalent to canning.  It's easy, but it is time consuming:  Get out the big canning pot and utensils, boil the jars to sterilize them, add your prepped vegetables or food items to the jars, then immerse them in boiling water, remove them from the water bath and let them cool until you hear the lids "pop", which means you've got a tight seal.  In the case of real-deal canned anything, if stored in a cool, dry place, this stuff can hang around for years in your pantry.  It's how our ancestors preserved food prior to refrigeration!

PICT0005Quick-pickling is super easy and almost any vegetable can be quick-pickled.  All you need is any type of clean jars, an acid (usually vinegar), sugar, and some sort of herb and/or spice.

PICT0014To guarantee the sugar dissolves, the mixture gets boiled for a few short minutes. Depending upon the food being pickled, the solution gets ladled into the jars hot or completely cooled. Follow the recipe on this point!

Next, all you do is close the lid on each jar, store them in the refrigerator overnight, and keep them refrigerated for as long as they last.  These quick-pickled onions (which get hot vinegar solution ladled over them to soften them slightly) last almost indefinitely and just keep getting better and better.  Quick-pickled cucumber salad (which gets cooled vinegar solution ladled over it to protect the delicate cucumbers) keeps for about 1 month (but it'll get eaten before that)!

In a pickle?  Quick-pickle some cucumber and onion salad!

It's as easy as "A", "B", "C"!

PICT0009~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot, stir together, simmer for 3 minutes, remove from heat and cool to room temperature (about 1 hour):

4 1/2  cups rice wine vinegar 

2 1/4 cups sugar

12  whole allspice ("A")

4  whole bay leaves ("B")

12  whole cloves ("C")

IMG_0300~ Step 2.  Very-thinly slice (about 1/8"):

6  8" salad cucumbers (1 cucumber per pint jar)

1  large Vidalia or sweet yellow onion (about 1, 12-ounce onion, 10-11-ounces after peeling)

Lightly-pack the vegetables into 6, 1-pint jars, alternating three layers of cucumbers with two layers of onions, making sure you leave a headspace of about 1/2 inch at the top of each jar after packing.

IMG_0307~ Step 3.  Remove the allspice, bay leaves and cloves from the cooled vinegar mixture.  

Slowly ladle or pour the mixture into the jars, stopping at the point where the 1/2" of headspace begins.

IMG_0310Seal the jars (close the lids) and refrigerate overnight or up to one week prior to serving chilled!

Note:  This is a great side-dish, sandwich topper, or tossed into a garden salad instead of dressing!

IMG_0350Summer Soul Salad:  Pickled Cucumbers & Onions:  Recipe yields 4 1/2 cups of vinegar solution and 6 pints of pickled cucumber & onion salad/2-4 servings per pint.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; cutting board; chef's knife; 6 1-pint jars with tight-fitting lids; ladle

PICT0011Cook's Note:  Besides freshly-picked cucumbers and tomatoes, I love onions too, and rare is the day when I'm not cooking with, eating or serving some type of onion.  For another one of my all-time favorite pickled treats, you can find my recipe for ~ Mel's Ultimate Sandwich Topper:  Pickled Onions ~ in Categories 2, 4, 8 and 20!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


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