Ok who likes pickles? Yum, I sure do!
Although nothing can top a Romanian grandmother’s jar of homemade pickles, carefully stored down in her root cellar for months, it’s actually rather easy to make your own incredibly delicious pickles at home.
Although this recipe is variable and can be used to pickle almost any vegetable, today we’ll talk about pickling cucumbers specifically, known in Romanian as castraveti murati (kah-strah-vets moor-ahtz), which are super delicious and made a great accompaniment as a side dish with mamaliga.
The best part is you don’t need any fancy equipment or advanced kitchen know-how to make these, just a little patience!
The following recipe makes “sour” cucumbers, as opposed to “bread and butter” pickles and have a crisp exterior with a delightfully soured or “pickled” interior. The following recipe is probably the most similar to what in America are called “kosher” pickles, after the tradition of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
What you need:
- Container – Can be an ordinary glass jar, a plastic bucket or anything else. You do not need a special top for your container. Make sure it is absolutely clean!
- Cucumbers for pickling – these are the short, small ones as opposed to the “English” cucumbers which are extra long and grown in greenhouses. The right cucumbers for making pickles should be slightly longer than your middle finger with a bumpy, knobby exterior.
- Salt – very importantly, this needs to be salt without iodine. Ordinary table salt in most countries comes packaged with iodine for medical purposes. What you need is either specially labeled “pickling salt” or else any ordinary salt with no iodine, including some kinds of “kosher” salt or sea salt.
- Vinegar – “red” or apple vinegar has the nicest taste but even ordinary grain or “white” vinegar will do the job.
- Dill – for best results, use the dry seeds of the plant but the dried leaves will work just fine or even fresh, about one small spoonful per kilo of cucumbers.
- Dried Leaves – In Romania you might want to use visine or “sour cherry” leaves but if these are unavailable to you, a good secondary choice is grape leaves.
- Horseradish – You just need a small piece of the root of this plant, available at most grocery stores.
- Mustard Seeds – Just a pinch of these per kilo of cucumbers.
- Garlic – just a few peeled but uncut cloves, about 1 clove per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of cucumbers.
I recommend making a lot of pickles because it takes a few weeks for them to get ready and then you’re going to be eating them by the fistful.
Therefore select a few pounds (or kilos) of cucumbers. The procedure is super simple:
- Thoroughly wash the cucumbers under running water and let them soak for about 1-2 hours in a bowl of cold water to remove all traces of bitterness
- Remove cucumbers from water and pat dry using a towel
- Fit the whole cucumbers into your jar (or container) as tightly as possible, with almost no space between them
- Add the whole horseradish root, garlic cloves (peeled but not cut), dried leaves and mustard and dill seeds to the jar
- Heat some water with the vinegar and salt until it boils
- Let the liquid cool enough so you can pour it into your jar (container) without shattering it
- Cover your container and let sit for a few weeks
- You did it!
The “magic” of pickles is that the sugars in the cucumbers will begin to ferment, adding that delicious sour taste. How long this takes is dependent on how long you leave them – pickles sour faster in warmer conditions than in hot ones.
Give it at least two weeks and then pop one out of the jar and see how it tastes. Remember, the longer you leave them the more intense the flavor will be. Properly made, these pickles will store easily for a year (or more).
The top of your container does not need to be air-tight (and in fact, it’s better if it isn’t) but what is of critical importance is that the pickles remain under the liquid the entire time.
Most Romanians just put a small cloth over the top of the jar and seal it with a rubber band but you can use any kind of covering you wish (including a proper lid).
The various other vegetables you add (horseradish, garlic, etc) are just to add a nice flavor and can be mixed and matched according to your taste. A lot of Romanians add slices of carrots to their pickled cucumbers and I’m here to tell you that it’s delicious.
But how much salt, vinegar and water to use?
The water you boil to use as the brine depends on how big your container is – if you’ve got a 5 gallon jar, of course heat up about 5 gallons of liquid.
Roughly speaking you want 1 large spoonful of salt for every liter of water or 4 large spoonfuls of salt per U.S. gallon. The more salt you add, the sourer the pickles will be at the end.
The standard ratio of vinegar to water is 1:2, therefore for every 1 liter of water add 500ml of vinegar (2 water for 1 vinegar).
A few other fun vegetables to pickle in your jar alongside the cucumbers:
- “Bell” peppers, esp red ones
- Onions (sliced)
- Carrot (slices or chunks)
- Even more horseradish
The sky’s the limit!
Enjoy your delicious, Romanian-style homemade pickles and pofta mare!