Chiles en Escabeche
Quick-Pickled Mexican Jalapeños and Carrots
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Pick and pack a peck of perfectly pickled piquant peppers (and carrots). The preparation? Painlessly perfunctory. The payoff? Preposterously palatable.
Alliteration aside, chiles en escabeche - jalapeños and carrots cooked and preserved in a simple, lightly sweetened vinegar sauce - is precisely the kind of simple and delicious staple to have kicking around in your fridge, waiting to add bite and zip to all sorts of meals. They're incredible easy to make, requiring no special prep or hot water bath canning. They'll last for a month or more in your fridge - but they probably won't last that long.
Some of the best preserving recipes are the ones that have a big impact on your meals without requiring much in the way of input. Chiles en escabeche (Mexican pickled jalapeños with carrots and onions) are exactly that kind of recipe, requiring only simple ingredients, basic kitchen skills, and a bit of patience. The resulting pickles are versatile and delicious, brightening up all sorts of dishes. They're by no means limited to being used with other Mexican meals either (though they do take pretty much any tacos to spectacular places).
There's no hot water bath canning required here, and the recipe is easily scaled up. It's also quite easy to modify (more on that later), so you can get creative too.
In case you're wondering, escabeche isn't just a fancy way of saying pickle. Escabeche is a specific cooking style that originated in the Iberian peninsula (modern Portugal and Spain). In its contemporary form, the word escabeche is used to refer to a broad array of dishes cooked with an acidic (generally vinegar-based) sauce. Numerous meat and vegetarian escabeche dishes can be found around the world in former Spanish and Portuguese colonies, while other similar dishes (often with similar names) are eaten around the Mediterranean, North Africa, and parts of the Caribbean.
This escabeche is about as simple as it can get, with just a few vegetables acting as the focus, and a simple, lightly sweetened vinegar sauce. Still, these aren't just standard fridge pickles, as the peppers, carrots, and onions are all cooked in the vinegar sauce itself. Contrast this with a typical pickled carrot recipe in which raw carrots are added to a jar and hot brine is poured over.
If you want to try your hand at a main-course sized escabeche, check out my recipe for halibut escabeche here. While there's more work involved to make it, it's a really versatile (and fascinating!) meal that can be served multiple times over multiple days.
This is about as simple as the recipes on Diversivore can get (with the possible exception of pico de gallo, which doesn't even require cooking). Consequently, I can keep the notes pretty straightforward here. I will take a moment to mention a couple of serving suggestions, and to give some variations in the subsection below.
My only major recommendation is that you keep an eye on the vegetables as they cook, and avoid over-cooking anything. You don't want overly mushy carrots or jalapeños.
For notes on modifying the spice level or the ingredients, see the Variations section below.
The sweetness, acidity, and heat of these pickles makes them a perfect accompaniment to all sorts of savoury dishes, and especially anything with a bit more richness. If you want a few examples from right here at Diversivore, look no further than carne entomatada, carne asada borracha, brisket with pasilla-morita adobo, and carnitas con queso. Pulled pork and barbecued/smoked meats would also be great choices. If you're looking for a good vegetarian option, I'd suggest trying them in something bean-centric.
Chiles en escabeche tend to work best as a condiment, but there's nothing to say that you can't incorporate them directly into a dish. Think casseroles, quesadillas, or tamales. Be aware though that any additional cooking time will further soften the jalapeños and carrots, which might lead to them becoming rather mushy.
Finally, don't be afraid to use the leftover brine either! It's sweet, spicy, and great to use anywhere you a punch of acid and flavour.
While you need to be careful about altering hot-water bath canned pickle recipes, you've got a lot more leeway with fridge pickles. I don't recommend altering the primary components of the brine, but you can adjust the added herbs and spices pretty freely.
If you want pickles with a little more heat, consider replacing some or all of the jalapeños with serrano peppers. Alternatively, if you're a little more spice averse, consider replacing the jalapeños with a milder green chili. Anaheim chilies, cubanelles, and banana peppers would all make good choices.
If you have access to ripe (red) jalapeños, you can use them to make a fruitier, somewhat sweeter, and generally spicier pickle. You can also use a combination of red and green peppers for a flavour that's somewhere in the middle. They'll look pretty cool too, which is always fun.
White onions are my go-to here, but you could substitute red onions, primarily for colour. The flavour will be more-or-less the same, but you'll get pink brine. That's nice for the onions and carrots, but it might make the jalapeños look a bit muddy. I would be tempted to use them alongside ripe/red jalapeños!
When it comes to modifying the brine ingredients, you've also got a handful of options. I generally don't do a lot of pickling with white vinegar as it can be quite harsh, but using a bit of sugar and cooking the jalapeños and carrots in the liquid nicely mellows the bite. That being said, you can absolutely substitute a different vinegar, so long as it has 5% acetic acid. A combination of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar (try 50:50 or 60:40) is particularly nice. White wine vinegar would work as well, though you're venturing into a somewhat more "Old World" flavour territory there. I would avoid much more distinctive and/or strongly flavoured vinegar varieties unless you're looking to bring their prominent flavours to the pickles. Even then, I'd suggest cutting them with white vinegar at a fairly low ratio (e.g. 5:1).
The garlic and herbs really come into play as the pickles mature in the fridge (assuming that you can wait long enough to eat them!), adding complexity without overwhelming anything. You can drop the bay and thyme if you want, but I would keep the garlic unless you have a strong dislike for it. You can also bring in other herbs or spices if you like. Oregano, coriander, and cumin are all phenomenal Mexican staple ingredients, and you could easily bring these into play. I think that allspice would be a great addition too, especially if you're looking to compliment Yucatecan-style Mexican cooking. If you do choose to change up the spices, start with small quantities and wait to taste-test your pickles until a few days have passed, at minimum.
These pickles are basically pure health food. Carrots and peppers combine to deliver plenty of Vitamins A and C, which makes these a great addition to more nutrient-poor meals. They're also much lower in salt than most store-bought pickles, meaning that you're not getting a big sodium kick from adding these to your meals.
I hesitate to even say this, but since people do pay attention to it, I will mention that there's a little added sugar (2 tsp in the batch). As you can see for yourself though, this contributes next to nothing to your daily sugar intake. The CDC and other organizations recommend limiting added sugar intake to 10% of your daily calorie intake. Even if you eat the entire jar in one sitting, including the brine, you'd be getting 32 calories from added sugar, or 1.6% of a 2000 calorie daily intake. So please, enjoy these, guilt-free.
Quick-Pickled Jalapenos & Carrots (Chiles en Escabeche)
- 7 oz jalapeños (~4 large) sliced into coins
- 5 oz carrot (~1 large) sliced into coins
- 5 oz yellow onion (~1/2 large) thinly sliced
- 1.5 cups white vinegar (3/4 cup) (see note)
- 1/2 cup water (1/4 cup)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 small stem fresh thyme (optional)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Slice the jalapeños, carrots, and onions and set them aside.
- Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a large pot on the stovetop. Bring to a boil.
- Add the carrots and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 3 minutes, then add the remaining vegetables. Cook for an additional 7-10 minutes, or until the jalapeños are soft and dull green. Remove from heat.
- Transfer the vegetables (and the bay leaf) to a sterilized pint (500 ml) jar, or several smaller jars. Pour the warm pickling liquid over the vegetables. Cover and cool at room temperature, then transfer to the fridge. Let sit overnight (longer is better). These will keep in the fridge for at least 1 month.
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