PARK SLOPE — Community supported agriculture (CSA) creates a win-win situation. Farmers get the steady support of consumers who buy a share of their produce, and the buyer gets a share of the farm's bounty.
If there’s any downside, it may be that CSA members are overwhelmed by an abundance of produce they won’t be able to consume before it goes bad.
Last week, DNAinfo New York presented some unconventional ways to use excess produce that’ll keep your CSA veggies interesting. This week, local experts in pickling and fermentation tell us how to employ age-old methods to preserve it.
Nearly any vegetable can be pickled. Every pickling recipe requires water, vinegar and salt (a standard recipe calls for two cups of water, two cups of vinegar and two tablespoons of salt).
That template can be enhanced with spices and herbs that suit whichever veggie you’re trying to preserve.
Shamus Jones is a pickling expert. His company, Brooklyn Brine, operates out of a space on Park Slope’s Fourth Avenue, producing pickled veggies such as Spicy Maple Bourbon pickles, Fennel Beets, Chipotle Carrots and Curried Squash.
Previously an executive chef at Blossom on the Upper West Side, among other establishments, Jones encourages an intuitive approach to selecting the herbs, spices and vinegar with which you choose to pickle your veggies.
Jones recommends researching recipes that use the veggies you have on hand to figure out which herbs and spices would mesh well with them in pickle form. Any combination of herbs, spices and vegetables that tastes good in an entree can taste good in pickle form.
“The type of vinegar you use is really a preference,” he said. “I really like apple cider vinegar ... I would totally pickle with a balsamic vinegar but it’s a very strong, acidic, tart flavor that you need to compensate for by cutting it down with another. White balsamic is a nice one to mix with black balsamic to bring it down.”
Once you’ve selected your herbs, spices and vinegar, follow your nose to decide how much of each of the herbs and spices you’re going to use.
“Make sure the spices all smell balanced,” Jones said. “We always mix herbs, the seed and fresh herbs. Sage is a real bully. It’s a really strong flavor. Whatever I want to pair it with — whether it’s oregano, thyme, rosemary and I’m trying to make a super-savory pickle — I would bunch them all together and just smell.
"I would make sure that I could smell each one, because then I’ll be able to taste each one.”
Make your brine by boiling the vinegar, water and salt together, later adding the herbs and spices you’ve selected.
“Your brine, you treat it like soup,” Jones said. “If you add spices to it, you add the fresh herbs at the end. Taste it along the way and if it tastes too salty on the front end then it’s going to be that way on the back end.”
Whichever vegetables you chose to pickle should be immaculately cleaned and free of any bruises, bug bites or mold. The presence of any of these things could lead to contamination. Add the brine to your veggies in a jar, taking care that the veggies are completely submerged in the brine.
Porous vegetables like tomatoes and zucchini need less time to become pickled, and are prone to becoming soggy over a prolonged pickling.
“Heat [the brine] up, then let it get to nearly room temperature and then I would pour it over the ingredients and it would be ready to go in an hour,” said Diane DiMeo, chef and owner of Bootleg Farms, which produces an assortment of pickles and kimchi (a Korean style of pickling).
For a quick brine, DiMeo recommends salting the vegetables first. This preserves the crunchiness after brining. Cover your veggies in salt for about half an hour. Rinse off the salt, dry the veggies and then pour the brine over.
Hefty vegetables like carrots, turnips and kohlrabi can stand a lengthier pickling, or the kimchi treatment. This Korean form of pickling employs garlic, ginger, sugar, salt, a fish sauce, water and plenty of hot chili pepper.
Traditionally, carrots, daikon, radish and/or cabbage make up a kimchi, but hearty vegetables like some of those in your CSA box are ideal for this treatment.
“What normally takes about three hours at home, takes about 10 minutes,” Oh said of the paste. “You don’t have to grind, peel, juice, mash. It’s all done — premixed and measured for you.”
Pack a sealable jar with your vegetable, the kimchi paste and water, taking care that the vegetable is fully submerged. Seal the container so that it is airtight and leave it at room temperature for two to three days, moving into the fridge after that.
The finished product is a savory treat that can be added into a wide variety of recipes.
“The most important characteristics of kimchi are that — even though it’s fermented — it still tastes fresh and has some level of acidity and tartness,” Oh said.
“What’s great about kimchi too is that when you cook with it the flavor profile totally changes. It gets more mellow but it’s a deeper flavor.”