Most of us don't think of pickles as much more than the condiment that accompanies our sandwich. But the 300 colorful pickle jars lining Urban Farmer's shelves show a much larger purpose: time extender. "We're able to pull from local farmers and preserve the best of the season for use later," says Matt Christianson, director of culinary operations. He helps us be as cool as a cucumber when it comes to understanding the possibilities of pickling.
Pick a path: Decide on how you are going to use your pickles before you start. That way the contents of the pickling liquids — a variation of water, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices — can be tweaked to make produce more acidic, spicy or herbaceous. So if you pickle onions, consider your main dish first. "If I want it to go with a rich beef dish, then I'll make it more acidic so that acid will cut through the fat of the dish," Christianson says. "You can put a higher content of acid versus sugar in your pickling liquid."
Spice, spice baby: Pickling can also be a fun way to play with flavors that accent the item. Green beans are a good vegetable to work with since they have a lot of bite. "You want to play off that crunch," he says. "The crunch can carry a lot of other flavors." Christianson adds dill seeds, dill spice, fresh dill and a Thai chili to pickled green beans for a side dish that goes well with burgers or smoked fish.
Give and take: If our summer lacks sun, like it often does, pickling can add sugar that is absent in underripe fruits such as strawberries and peaches. "Pickling fruit is all about taking what may be in the fruit and balancing it," Christianson says. He recommends doing canning in late summer. "So when the snow starts flying, and you've got to have a piece of summer to make you happy, you can pull one of those jars off the shelf and remember."
More Pickled Plates
Fire Food and Drink: Chef Douglas Katz uses a spicy, acidic mango pickle — a classic Indian condiment made with red chili powder, mustard seed and curry leaf — to cut the richness of fried Indian chickpea fritters ($12). 13220 Shaker Square, Cleveland, 216-921-3473, firefoodanddrink.com
Forage Public House: With 15 to 20 brines and rotating seasonal local veggies, the daily pickled ($5) excites taste buds with each order. Combinations include cucumbers in a garlic-dill and Mountain Dew brine or onions in a mustard-red wine brine. 14600 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-226-2000, foragepublichouse.com
The Willeyville: Taste what chef and owner Chris DiLisi calls "nature's twang" that develops in cauliflower, red onion, celery, carrots and garlic fermented in salt for the fried pickle veggies appetizer ($8). The ages-old Italian dish gets served with kale pesto and lemon aioli. 1051 W. 10th St., Cleveland, 216-862-6422,thewilleyville.com