In 2002/2003, Mindelei and I lived in Houston, Texas. While neither of us misses the heat, humidity or traffic, we both miss the excellent and often inexpensive Mexican food that the city has to offer. Countless taquerias, cantinas, taco trucks, and restaurants dot the landscape turning the Houston metro area into a Mexican food-lover’s paradise.
One of our favorite places to eat was a small Mexican hole-in-the-wall just up the road from our apartment where upbeat Mexican pop and traditional music rang out from the jukebox, bright and colorful throw rugs decorated the walls, and the enticing aromas coming from the kitchen all but guaranteed a good meal was in the offing. Just as in many Mexican restaurants across the country, a large bowl of freshly-cooked tortilla chips and two (sometimes three) salsas were brought to the table at the beginning of the meal. However, unlike many other restaurants, a bowl of jalapeno escabeche was also served. It was here that I fell in love with this simple but delicious dish of pickled jalapenos with vegetables. The acidic tang of the pickling brine combined with the crisp bite of the peppers was a superb way to begin a meal, while the heat of the peppers was perfect excuse for an ice-cold margarita or a malty Dos Equis. Depending on the season, the ingredients of the pickle changed; it wasn’t uncommon to find small but crunchy florets of cauliflower, cubes of tender-crisp chayote, or even a few serrano peppers added to the mix.
The following recipe is our basic version of this delicious pickle:
~20-25 jalapenos (1lb -1.5lbs) sliced in halves lengthwise. I prefer to leave the seeds in the pepper but they can be removed if you wish.
1 large white or yellow onion, cut in 8 wedges.
3 carrots, thinly sliced into rounds.
1 cup of cauliflower florets broken into small pieces (optional).
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, crushed and peeled.
3 cups water
1 and 3/4 cups of vinegar. We mainly use distilled white vinegar as it has a neutral flavor but a good apple cider vinegar (or mix of the two) could also be used.
1 Tbs of kosher or pickling salt. Iodized table salt is NOT recommended for this recipe.
2 Tbs white sugar.
1 Tbs of extra-virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp of dried oregano or two 2 inch sprigs of the fresh herb.
– In a medium sauce pan made out of non-reactive materials, add the olive oil, a pinch of the salt, carrots, onion, and garlic. Saute on low heat until the onion and carrot just starts to soften and the onion begins to become translucent ~ 3-4 minutes.
– To the carrots and onion, add water, vinegar, the remaining salt, sugar, bay leaves and oregano to the pot and turn the heat up to medium-high. Continue heating the pickling liquid until it just begins to bubble slowly at the sides of the pot, then taste the brine for seasoning. Adjust the seasoning as necessary. There should be a good balance of flavors in the pickling brine; adding more sugar helps mellow the harsh acidity of the vinegar, while the salt helps ensure the pickling brine does not become too sweet.
– Turn the heat under the brine to low and then add jalapenos (and cauliflower if you are using it) to the pot. You don’t want to boil the brine as this will affect the texture of the vegetables. Part of what makes these pickles so delicious is the toothsome crunch of the vegetables.
– Cook the jalapenos, stirring frequently, until they take on an olive-drab color (~ 5-7 minutes). At this point remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool. I like to speed up the cooling process to help preserve the pickles crunchiness by placing the entire covered pot directly into a sink filled with ice and water.
– Once cool, transfer the pickles and pickling brine to a clean, dry vessel and place in the fridge. A large (80 oz) pickle jar works perfectly for storing the escabeche.
– Although it is tempting to dig in and savour the results immediately, allow the jalapenos to sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours to finish the pickling process.
Mindelei and I like to eat these as a healthy and flavorful snack while watching TV or surfing the web. The jalapenos are excellent on nachos or in tacos when sliced thinly, and although I have not yet tried this yet, it would be easy to turn the peppers into home-made jalapeno poppers.
Note: This escabeche must be kept in a refrigerator where it will last for about a week to ten days (if you can resist the temptation that is) and the pickling liquid makes a tasty hot sauce . This is NOT a suitable recipe for the long-term preservation of peppers.