Turmeric Pickled Cauliflower

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I will eat pretty much anything pickled. Sure I love the typical things like cucumbers, green tomatoes, and green beans but it goes much further than that. I’ve been known to snack on pickled cocktail onions with cheese. A few weeks ago I got super excited about a pickled egg appetizer at a bar around the corner (delicious, by the way). When we go out to eat, Jeff will often pass me any mediocre pickles that accompany his dish, which I will almost always eat. There is no fruit or vegetable that I can think of that I would not happily enjoy once it’s been steeped in vinegar and salt. And if you’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you know that this is not the first time I’m sharing a pickle recipe.

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The idea for cauliflower pickles came from something I saw at the store. San Francisco is home to more interesting food treats that I can hope to ever buy so I often try to recreate the things I see on a more reasonable budget. Pickled cauliflower I knew would be amazing (giardiniera anyone?) but I wasn’t sure what the addition of turmeric would do the final flavor. I mostly use turmeric in two places: yellow rice and Indian food, and I can’t claim to use it with flavor in mind. Mostly when I think of it I think of the bright yellow color that it adds to food. But when I found cauliflower in the sale bin, I knew it was worth trying a batch, even if it didn’t turn out as I’d expected.

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Let’s take a second to talk about the cauliflower I’m using. One of the things I discovered upon moving to the Bay Area, is that cauliflower is not always white. (Sidenote: Carrots are historically white. Seriously. Mind. Blown.) Orange and purple cauliflower are fairly common here and while they don’t taste any different from the white variety, they are fun to add to a dish for the color variation. And since the final product would be dyed yellow by the turmeric, I saw no reason not to start with a pre-colored version.

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And the effect of that turmeric? It gives a sweetness to the final pickle and a kind of earthy, mustardy flavor although it’s not spicy by any stretch of the imagination. Vinegar pickles, unlike fermented pickles (think supermarket kosher dill spears versus real deli half sours), do not have a particularly complex flavor unless the vinegar brine has some things added to it. In this case the onions and turmeric add a lot to the final product. This is a pretty mellow pickle and as a result it makes a great accompaniment to cheese, salads (go easy on the vinaigrette though), or just eaten straight from the jar. If you choose to water bath can it, you can enjoy them over the next year but otherwise you’ll have to eat them within a few weeks. If they make it that long.

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A quick note on canning (there are lots below, don’t worry): It takes a lot of attention and space on your stovetop but once you figure it out it’s pretty easy to do and the payoff is huge since you often end up with 5 or 6 jars from one round of canning. If you haven’t tried water bath canning, now is a great time. Also, if you are someone (like me) who generally does not read the recipe until halfway through making it, this is a time to read the whole thing before you start. Trust me; it will make the process much easier.

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Turmeric Pickled Cauliflower
Adapted from Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone

*If you have never canned anything, I highly recommend checking out this post for some great tips. I’ve also added some “whys” for the steps below, noted by italics.

3 tbs kosher salt
2 pounds cauliflower, broken into bite sized pieces
1 quart vinegar – anything with 5% acidity; I use half distilled and half apple cider, both are 5% acidity
2 cups sugar
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 ½ tsp turmeric powder

Bring 5 pint jars and their metal bands to a boil in a large and tall stock pot with a rack or towel at the bottom to allow water to circulate around the entire jar. Boil the jars for 10 minutes, then remove them to a towel using tongs but keep the water and make sure it stays hot – this is where you will process your jars. In the meantime, place a small saucepan filled with about a cup or two of water over low heat and add the lids to the water to simmer. Always use new lids because they lose their sealing ability after processing. The warm water will help soften the rubber that allows the jars to seal.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat and add the salt. Add the cauliflower and cook for 2-3 minutes, then drain. Blanching the cauliflower is necessary so that the interior is warm when the jars go into the canning bath and the internal temperature will get high enough to both seal the jar and kill any nasty bacteria.

In a medium pot, combine vinegar, sugar, onions, and turmeric over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Again, having hot or warm liquid in the jars will help the temperature come up quickly during canning and keep the final product safe. Remove the onions and toss them with the cauliflower.

When the jars are dry, but still hot, gently pack the cauliflower and onions into the jars. You will probably have enough for 4 pint jars but I like to prepare at least one extra so that if I have more I don’t have to scramble to sterilize an extra jar. Cover the cauliflower with vinegar, leaving ½ to ¾ inch of headspace at the top of the jar. If you don’t leave enough head space, the jars won’t seal. Once filled, wipe the rims of the jars with a wet paper towel to make sure the lids will adhere and then place the warmed lids on the jars and screw on the metal band, tightening them with only your fingertips. You want them secure but not tight since air will escape during the processing.

Place the jars in the pot you used to sterilize them, making them are upright, and add enough water to cover them by a few inches. Bring the water back to a boil, then boil the jars for 10 minutes. Make sure the water is boiling before you start the timer to ensure that the jars get a long enough bath in hot enough water. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let the jars cool slightly in the bath for about 5 minutes. Then remove them using tongs or a jar lifter and place them on a wooden or cloth surface. Other surfaces may be too cold and could cause the hot jars to break on contact. I cover my jars with a cloth at this point, both to slow the cooling process and help ensure a good seal and to prevent me from accidentally touching super-hot glass and metal, which is not an uncommon problem for me. As the jars cool, you may hear popping noises as the lids seal themselves.

Once the jars have cooled completely (about 6 hours later), check the seals by removing the rings and lifting the jars by their lids to see if the lid stays – if it does they have sealed. Store them without their rings so that you will know if a seal breaks and see the bottom of the lids to check for any bacteria or cracks in the rubber. Let the jars sit for a few weeks and mellow before eating them. Jars sealed during processing will last for up to a year.

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