O.K. Four spinal surgeries in seven months and I’m pretty much done! Yup. I managed to do a short desert trip in early December and the rest of the time it’s been Indoorsville. I’m ready to climb the walls… only I’m not up to climbing yet. I just got home again from the hospital last week. I’m ready to … let’s just say it’s time to GET PICKLED!!!!! Together. Please join me. The more the merrier.
You see, Israelis have this mad love affair with pickles. It seriously reminds me of that ”Portlandia” episode, ’We Can Pickle That.’ They seem to pickle just about everything that doesn’t move on its own here. Each cultural community has its own specialties and preferences. The Ashkenaz and Russian/Ukrainian/Slavic peoples have the more-familiar sauerkraut and pickles, very delicious and easy to make. Russians make big, huge jars of pickled tomatoes that are incredibly garlicky and totally addictive.
Every single falafel stand here has its own accompanying pickle bar. Inside a light fluffy pita, humus is spread. Then you select a couple kinds of pickles, then in pops the hot falafel balls, more pickles or ”salat, (chopped veg),then more balls, some fried eggplant or chips (french fries), more kinds of pickles, topped with techineh or amba, my fave, which is a pickled mango sauce. This is street food at its best. And cheapest. A normal falafel sandwich, bursting at the seams, will set you back about $5 with drink. And it’s always a serve yourself pickle bar. So grab a plate and PILE IT ON!! If it’s too early for falafel, get a sabich, also served in a pita, but with hard boiled egg, boiled potato, fried eggplant, humus, techineh, spicy schug sauce and PICKLES!!!
Some of the ’peek-leem” here are as simple as thin slices of red onion marinated in vinegar with a little sumac. Others more complex, like the bright neon pink turnip pickles, which I was hesitant to try at first, but now love. Their pink color comes from beet juice. There’s a pickle that’s ubiquitous here: a fluorescent yellow veg mix, also a street food stand staple. Oh and just about every person from every culture has their own to-die-for version of a carrot salad or carrot pickle. All of these healthy choices are served as part of the pre-appetizer course when you go to a restaurant in Israel. It’s much healthier than filling up on bread… at least you don’t feel as guilty for ”spoiling your appetite” before you even see a menu (Jewish moms are notorious for telling everyone, not just their kids but their husbands, their kids’ friends, the guy at the next table, ”Don’t snack or you’ll spoil your appetite!!”).
The Ethiopians, Indians, the Mizrachi (from the MidEast), and Sephardic Jews from North Africa/ Spanish speaking countries have pickles that are honestly five alarm hot pickles. They will burn your lips off so you don’t have to worry about spoiling your appetite. I’ve even had the most delicious pickled fruits from Middle Eastern kitchens. They are not spicy hot, but sweet, sometimes sweet and sour and fragrant with ginger, cloves and cardamom.
Russians, Eastern Europeans, Ukranians and Ashkenaz eat pickled fish in the morning with their dairy breakfasts. I was actually raised on pickled herring in cream sauce, pickled herring with onions on top and pickled whitefish. Pickled sardines are a hit among those Eastern Europeans – swimming in a rich tomato sauce. I’ll pass, thank you. It seems you can pickle everything! Not that I’d care to. Also pickled cheeses are not unusual to see floating in tubs or jars in the dairy section of local markets. These pickled cheeses are spread on breads for breakfast. Always served with hard-boiled eggs.
So I sent off my dear(poor) husband who’s been waiting on me hand and foot, to trot around town taking pictures….of pickles! I told him to hit up the street food stands and anybody or anything that looks pickled. It’s like a scavenger hunt, Honey. And while he’s hunting I’ll be sharing recipes with you at long last. These are recipes I’ve been collecting over the past few years. I’ll seriously ask ANYBODY for a favorite recipe. It’s a great ice-breaker and even greater way to break the culture barrier. And who doesn’t love a good crunchy pickle? They’re incredibly healthy. Low calorie. Easy to make. And delicious. Some of the recipes are lacto-fermented like the cucumber pickles, which means they do wonders for your gut flora. So, here goes:
This first recipe comes from a woman I follow on Instagram. Malka Channah Amichai is a wife, mother of four young children, social influencer, doula, teacher on women’s issues, cowgirl, potter, cook. You name it, she does it all. In Yiddish this is a balabusta, the highest compliment, imho. Malka calls herself ’The Bohemian Balabusta.’ Her sense of style is incredible. Modern Orthodox hippie chick. American. Israeli. Funky. Fun. This is her pickle recipe.
These really are amazing! Crisp, fresh, garlicky, sour, salty….these pickles from bohemian balabusta are my grandfather’s kosher pickle recipe. So good, so easy, and full of good bacteria for the tummy!
STEP 1: The Mixture In a large jar add- 1 liter jar of natural spring water
1 TBSP coarse salt
STEP 2: Shake mixture until all the salt is dissolved.
STEP 3: Wash very well 15-20 mini cucumbers or as many will fit nicely into the jar..Add to jar of brine.
STEP 4: Add 1 tsp black peppercorns
Several sprigs of fresh dill
STEP 5: Add in a bunch of peeled, smashed garlic cloves (5-8 large) * *STEP 6**: make sure everything is submerged under salt brine so it doesn’t mold!!! MalkaChannah hack: she uses a small, clean glass jar inside the larger jar to weigh everything down. Screw the lid on top lightly. MalkaChannah says, ” Let them sit in a cool place on the counter for at least four days. It will ferment and be super yum.” The longer they are left, the better, and if the water seems a little cloudy, it’s just fine.
You can’t walk into a falafel or shawarma joint here without noticing those BRIGHT PINK STICKS OF SOMETHING!??! What are those things??? I avoided them like them like the plague for the first couple of years that I was here. They just didn’t look natural! But they are, in fact, both natural and delicious! The lowly and ugly turnip that many people avoid or cook and bash are amazing made into pickles, served with sandwiches, deli meats falafel, shawarma…. and are stunning in a little dish on a veggie or cheese board.
No, they don’t have food coloring or any additives at all. Their gorgeous, vibrant color comes from beets! The flavor is sharp like a radish, a little sour, slightly sweet, a little salty, and fairly addictive. I got the recipe a couple years ago from our neighborhood falafel guy (after much coaxing. Shlomi, see, I’m sharing your recipe just like I said. You’re famous!!). They are really easy to make and keep in the fridge indefinitely. And they are really cheap too. Did I mention gorgeous?
ISRAELI PINK PICKLED TURNIPS FROM SHLOMI
- 3 cups water
- 1/3 cup coarse salt
- 2 TBSP sugar
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 bay leaf, crumbled
- 1 beet
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 lb/0.5 kg turnips, about 3 medium-large turnips
Peel the turnips and the beet and slice into large strips. Bring water, salt, sugar and vinegar to a boil and stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Let cool and pour into a large glass measuring cup. Add smashed garlic cloves, peppercorns, bay leaf into a large 3 cup canning or pickle jar. Add the veggie strips, with a layer of beets on top and bottom and turnips in the middle. Pour the liquid brine in the measuring cup over the veggies in the jar. Make sure the veggies are completely covered by the brine. When the liquid is room temp, screw on the lid and refrigerate. They will be ready … and gorgeous… after 5 days. Enjoy!
England has their pickalili. The people of India have their chutneys and raitas. In the Deep South of the United States, it’s chowchow. Torshi is prevalent in Iraq and Iran. And Koreans enjoy kimchi. The entire world over, we all love pickled veg prepared in various ways, depending on what we have at hand and depending on our individual palates. When the summer garden yields its abundance, our grandparents were wise enough to preserve and put up the harvest for use throughout the year.
The next recipe is also found throughout Israel. It’s a staple food and anchors every condiment stand at the falafel shops. Each person has their own recipe depending on what vegetables are available. Always cauliflower! Sometimes carrots or white cabbage, red or green pepper, sometimes celery. You can also add jicama or kohlrabi. Stunning on a crudite platter or cheese board. The veggies are slightly crunchy, vinegary tangy, and very healthy. If you like a little (or a lot) of heat, you can add pepperoncini peppers. Some people add cut-up pickles. In Hebrew the word for sour is khamootz. So we ask for khamootzim and point to which one we want. Usually there are several. The yellow, the white, the orange, purple or green.
ISRAELI KHAMOOTZIM (Pickled veggies)
- 4-5 liter pickle or canning jar
- 1 head of cauliflower, cleaned and broken into florets
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin coins
- 1 very small head of cabbage, washed, cored and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 2 red bell peppers, cleaned, cored and sliced
- 2-4 pepperoncini or more, to taste (optional)
- 4-6 cloves garlic, without skins
- 1 well-washed lemon, sliced thin
- 8 cups water
- 2 TBSP coarse salt
- 2 1/2 cups white vinegar
- 1 whole lemon, squeezed, seeds and pulp strained out
- 1/2 TBSP Curcum (Turmeric powder)
Boil the water for 5 minutes. Add in salt, lemon juice, vinegar and turmeric, stirring well to mix. Add all your chopped veg into the empty jar. When room temperature, pour the brine into your jar. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT ALL VEGETABLES ARE SUBMERGED COMPLETELY UNDER THE BRINE!!! Screw the top on and place in the refrigerator. It will be ready after 4 days.
Now, to switch gears and go to a different type of ”pickle.” Actually these are not brined over a period of time, but are served fresh and bright, right out of the garden. I’d call it a salad, but here there part of the ‘picklim’ family. They are served in the morning at breakfast, always present at table along side Israeli Salad, which is chopped cucumbers and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, and sprinkled with salt. I would love to pack this in a little dish and take it on a picnic. Great on a hot day when you don’t feel like cooking.
- 3 large cucumbers, washed well and thinly sliced
- 1/2 lb red radishes (1 large bunch)
- 4 sprigs, fresh dill, chopped
- 1 red/purple onion, thinly sliced
- 5 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice, pits and pulp strained out (1-2 lemons)
- 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- optional- shredded mozzarella ( or crumbled feta)
- 1//2 tsp freshly cracked ground black pepper
Thinly slice the cucumbers (unpeeled), radish and onions. Place in a pretty, shallow bowl. In small bowl, mix the oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper, and dill. Pour over the sliced veggies. Toss together, incorporating dressing over salad. Let stand, covered, in the fridge for about a half hour and serve cold. If desired, you can top with shredded mozzarella or crumbled feta.
O.K. so I’m running low on battery and at the point of exhaustion. John has just come home with the photos and stories of the people he chased down asking to take a photo of their food. For those of you who know him, you can just see my jovial husband doing this. He also brought this great ”mana falafel in picklim.” I’m ready to GET PICKLED!!!