I met Karen Solomon on the streets of San Francisco in April 2013. I was waiting for a taxi to the airport when she walked right out of her apartment building. I promise I had no idea it was her apartment building but when I asked if she was the cookbook author, well, I’m certain she thought I was a stalker.
She actually asked me, “Are you a stalker?” because that’s what you ask your potential stalker, right?! I assured her that I just had a good memory, remembering her from the culinary conference we both attended earlier in the week. Thank goodness she believed me and agreed to this interview because we love her cookbooks, including this new one, Asian Pickles. Merci, Karen! -Maggie (aka, the cookbook author stalker)
1: What inspired your cookbook?
I love Asian pickles! I feasted on pickles when I lived in Japan, and I judge a Korean restaurant more for their banchan than their meat. I love pickles, and as a pickle nerd I am always drawn to those that are unusual in some way, either in flavor, ingredient, or technique. Asian pickles contain all of that, so I began tasting and creating in earnest. I went to Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco in search of a good Asian pickles book, and I was baffled to find that one didn’t exist. Lucky for me, this became my project for the next two years.
2: What was the most fulfilling or most difficult part of writing this cookbook?
Well, anytime you do something that involves a lengthy fermentation, you have to wait a long time to see the results. Patience can definitely be a necessity. Also, not specific to this cookbook but to all the books I write: I could be in the kitchen developing and testing recipes for eight hours — sink full of dirty dishes, exhausted from chopping and stirring, etc. — and yet still have to send out for pizza for dinner.
3: What do you eat when no one is looking?
I’m not telling you! :> A total guilty pleasure is vegetable/potato chip dip made from Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix. I freakin’ love it, and I serve it at almost every party — I’m classy like that. I have tried many homemade versions which, one would think, would be much better. But alas, nothing can touch that pre-fab processed onion powder with those factory dehydrated onion bits for flavor. I prefer mine with full fat yogurt over sour cream, as it’s less dense and more tangy.
4: What’s the best homemade food gift you’ve ever received?
So many! The day we moved into our current home, my neighbor brought down a beautifully-arranged tray of homemade brownies that were the bomb. I still thank her for them (and the gesture) to this day. Also, after Marisa McClellan (Food in Jars) stayed overnight here once on tour, she sent me a jar of the most outstanding sour cherries ever. They were really perfect. I drank every drop of the brine.
5: Share a little tip to inspire a home cook, to help them save time in the kitchen or to motivate them to take their cooking or food gifting to the next level.
One of the things I love to share with people who are new to jams and pickles is that canning is not a necessity to make either one. Pickles especially can be silly-simple; there’s no need to even boil water. In a pinch, you could simply slice vegetables thinly, splash on a simple brine, and have pickles in 30 minutes. I love canning, but I don’t want people to think it’s a necessity or the only way to preserve food. Food preservation is rich with many canning alternatives, including drying, salting, oil curing, fermenting, etc.
6: What’s your next food project?
Good question. Perhaps I will conquer the pickles of the world!
And now for a recipe from the tome itself — Wasabi Pickled Carrots. Thanks again, Karen! xox
Real wasabi — that ugly, pungent root — can be very difficult to come by…but when you do find it, please buy yourself a hearty knob for grating and go nuts! Your nasal passages will both thank you and curse you. Henceforth, the shortcut, lazy-butt way to conjure up some serious wasabi flavor into pickles (or mashed potatoes or mustard or gefilte fish) comes in — ta da! — a jar of prepared horseradish. I don’t usually put this much faith in store bought products, but the convenience, flavor, and pungency of prepared white horseradish, usually pureed with a little vinegar and salt, is a great aid to pickling and cooking. The only thing you must solemnly swear is to NEVER buy that faux green-tinged “wasabi” powder or that gunk in the tube that you find in the Asian section of the grocery story. They are often full of artificial colors, preservatives, and mysterious chemicals… and they taste like it. Blech! You, your pickles, and your sushi deserve much better.
Now, let’s talk carrots. Chances are that you’ve chopped, sliced, diced, julienned, and shredded them previously. But, I ask you: Have you peeled your carrots into an oblivion of pretty ribbons? This is your chance! Take that vegetable peeler and on purpose, peel the whole of the carrots into a long and colorful tangle of thin, wide, light, twirl-able twists. Then make these pickles.
Wasabi Pickled Carrots
Makes about 2-1/4 cups
Bonus points to those fortunate enough to find yellow or purple carrots at the farmers market to toss into the mix. Feel free to also test out this technique on zucchini, cucumbers, daikon or jicama as well, both for pickles and for salads. It takes away the toothsome crunch of the vegetable but still retains their freshness. Heaven.
- 1 pound carrots (about 5-8 large carrots), ideally in mixed colors, but orange will work quite well
- 4 teaspoons prepared horseradish
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1-½ teaspoon fresh ginger, very finely minced (use a micorplane zester, if you have one, or slice thinly and squeeze it through a garlic press)
- Peel the carrots and discard the skins. Then, using a vegetable peeler, peel the carrots into ribbons, getting as far down to the nub as you can.
- Combine the carrots with the horseradish, kosher salt, chili flakes, and ginger and toss very well in a deep bowl or jar. Use a fork and work the seasoning into the carrot ribbons, as you would pasta.
- Cover with a drop lid and one pound of weight. ** Let sit 30 minutes.
- Eat immediately, or cover and refrigerate and eat within 6 weeks.
** This is simply a flat object that will push the carrots down and a weight to make that happen. A plate and jar of beans will do just fine if you don’t have any drop lids or special kitchen weights lying around for this very reason.
Photo courtesy of Karen Solomon and Sean St. John.
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