Asian Pickles–A Book Review

Pickles are a mainstay of life. For centuries, homemakers have been fermenting cucumbers and other vegetables to serve with hard-to-digest and fatty meals. If you’ve ever thought to try pickles from other cultures, the following post will convince you to try Asian pickles.

Book Review: Asian Pickles, sweet, sour, salty, cured, and fermented preserves by Karen Solomon (Ten Speed Press: Berkeley)

Are you getting bored with bread and butter pickles, kosher dills, and sauerkraut?  With Asian Pickles, you can bring the tastes of the orient to your table without leaving home, and without the high price tag of ethnic grocery stores.  The book is divided by region – Japan, Korea, China, India, and South East Asia.  Each chapter is full of the essential fermented and pickled condiments that make that area’s cuisine unique.  Some ferments are ready in just a few hours, while others take a few months.  Although fermentation generally is a long process, there is a plethora of fermented condiments that you can make in the morning, and have ready to serve by dinner.

Asian pickles define the cuisine of many Asian cultures.  For instance, Korean food demands Kimchi, while Indian cuisine begs for gingery chutney.  Some of the tastes of the orient may take some getting used to.  There is fermented squid, fermented fish, and lots of chili flakes, for instance.  But one bite of the condiment causes a burst of flavor that expresses each cuisine perfectly.

If you are getting bored with bread and butter pickles and sauerkraut, Asian Pickles will expand your ideas of what a pickle should taste like and how to incorporate the unique flavor palette into your meals.

The pickles of Asia weren’t born out of taste but out of necessity.  In the blazing heat of the tropical summer and no refrigeration, pickling is a shrewd way of preserving food.

But beyond food preservation, pickles serve a purpose in the meal.  Pickles are used in the meal to clean the palate.  They balance the heavy tastes of ghee or coconut laden curries.  The probiotics in naturally fermented pickles also help digestion of protein and fat.  Solomon recommends if your meal is spicy serve a sweet pickle.  If it is mild, let the accompanying pickle be sharp, and pungent.

Asian Pickles is about more than pickles.  It also offers recipes for dishes that are served to accompany pickles, because what good is a fridge full of pickles that never get eaten.  Along with each pickle there are serving suggestions on how to use it.  These are just to stimulate your creativity though.  Once you tasted these exotic pickles you’ll be looking for excuses to serve them.  And don’t be afraid to mix cuisines.  Try spicy Kimchi in a cheesy quiche or sweet chutney with your turkey dinner.  A home-cooked meal should be exciting and unique to your own family’s tastes.

Some of the techniques for making Asian pickles are unusual.  But Solomon’s descriptions of the techniques are clear and easy to understand. It’s like she’s standing beside you encouraging you with her instructions.  So don’t be shy to try some of the more exotic pickling techniques.

The tasteful photography is exceptionally compelling. The redness of the Fresno chilies, the pale green of the hot mustard leaves, the burgundy shiso leaves, and the texture of rough, greyed boards and crisp linen cloths set this cook book apart from other fermentation cookbooks.

Asian Pickles, sweet, sour, salty, cured, and fermented preserves is a hardcover book that would make a lovely gift for the pickle maker in your life.


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