Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dill Cucumbers, but Not So Salted.

When I saw at the market small and fresh pickles, also called kirby cucumbers, I thought about introducing them to the international readers, since cucumbers in brine are a very important part of Polish national cuisine, and I have never tried them anywhere.

In the US they are available in jars in some grocery store in Jewish food sections, under the name kosher dill pickles, but they are more salted and contain a little bit of vinegar. Polish cucumbers in brine, that is cucumbers marinated in salt only and without the use of vinegar, are more healthy and, together with sour cabbage--another Polish specialty, for many years had been one of the very few sources of vitamins during winter months and protected us from digestive tract cancer.

On the second, or third day, when cucumbers are only half-marinated and still half-raw, we call them "malosolne" (i.e., not so-salted) and eat mostly as accompaniment to bread and cold-cut meat sandwiches, use them in a summer salads, make chilled soup, or eat on the side with dinners.

As they turn deeply salted we store them through the whole winter in tightly closed jars and use them for salads, soup, and serve with dinners.

When cucumbers appear on the summer farmers market we buy them by kilograms and the whole season preserve for winter. But they are so popular and tasty that consumption of the freshly marinated cucumbers is as big in the summer as later during the year when we take them from the storage when they are already well preserved.

Pickled kirby cucumbers owe their taste to the herbs in which they are marinated. These include horseradish root or leaves, dried blooming dill, and garlic. In Poland, one can buy just the right mix in bunches. Here I buy them separately and use just fresh dill instead of the dried one, which is not available.

If you find it difficult to find kirby cucumbers in a regular supermarket, you will certainly find them at local farmers market, smaller food stores and in the ethnic, particularly Asian supermarkets. Always look for the very fresh ones, as they stay preserved in a better shape and longer.

I make cucumbers in brine only for a short time, seasonal consumption and never tried to store here over the winter. But, since I will also share a recipe for the famous Polish cold beet soup (Chlodnik) which we eat in the summer, I needed to mention them as well. And since recipes have become so global and we are willing to try different food, maybe salted cucumbers will also find their lovers outside the Poland.

Here is a modified, international version, for a small preserve jar.

Dill cucumbers

1 pound of small kirby cucumbers,
4-6 dill branches,
4 cloves of peeled garlic,
1 piece of horseredish root, about 1 inch long,
1/2 tsp mustard seeds,
2 branches of fresh tarragon (optional),
1 tbsp salt,
2 bay leaves.

1. Dissolve salt well in one cup of water.
2. Wash cucumbers.
3. At the bottom of the jar arrange dill, garlic cloves, horseradish, and mustard seeds.
4. Put cucumbers in the jar vertically, tightly next to each other, with firmly lodged in the center.
5. Put a bay leave between the cucumbers and cover with tarragon.
6. Pour cold salted water until cucumbers are entirely covered. (You can use hot water if would like the cucumbers to marinate faster.
7. Close the lid tightly and let the jar stand in room temperature for couple of days.

If you would like to try half raw cucumbers they are good on the second, or third day when they turn from bright green to slightly dull. Cucumbers become fully marinated after four-fiver days when they become dark green, nearly brown. Then they become ordinary cucumbers in brine, which are a very popular side dish in Poland all year around.

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