Mild Pickled Jalapeños

Pickled jalapeños are a family favorite.  No Mexican inspired meal goes without them.  Because 3 of the 4 members of the family protest when something is too spicy, I would buy mild jalapeño pickles from the grocer.

Yes, you read that right.  I WOULD BUY A PICKLE.  I bought La Preferida Mild Pickled jalapeños for years.  It galled me, especially when fall arrived, and jalapeños spilled over every farmer’s stall at the market selling for a cheap $2 a quart.

I tried to recreate them at home, an annual exercise in futility.  I tired the obvious at first—removing the seeds and white pith. This helped but certainly didn’t eliminate the heat. I tried to substitute peppers like poblanos, but they didn’t have the right meaty texture.  I wanted mild pickled jalapeños, not pickled poblanos.   I tried blanching and salting them, knowing from a food science stand point this probably wouldn’t do anything…and it didn’t.  Renewed in my quest, each fall I scoured university extension sites from California to Maine for answers on how to de-heat  jalapeños.  Nada.

How do the people at La Preferida make such a tasty mild jalapeño pickle?  I was on the verge of writing the company a letter, when serendipitously, I stumbled on a seed catalogue revealing the answer.  You cannot make a hot jalapeño mild.  You can, however, grow a mild variety.  Duh!   The answer is so obvious.  Why did it take me 5 years to figure it out?

Question answered. Problem not solved. Where can I get one of these mild varieties?  I have yet to meet a farmer that grows and sells them in Southeast Wisconsin.  Let me know if you know one.  I could grow them, but with curious children and cats and a cave of a house,  I don’t have a safe environment, let alone the sunlight to start my own jalapeño seedlings indoors in February.  Nor have I discovered any nursery around here that grows mild varieties like Texas A&M, Senoritas and Fooled You.  Again, let me know if you do.

Then, in another serendipitous moment, I went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant with a friend who asked the waiter to bring extra pickles—not the jalapeños, just the carrots.  She confessed that she was addicted to those delicious little pickled carrots.  I tried one and agreed—a perfect combination of mild heat and sweetness and a satisfying toothy texture.  Light bulb!  If I modify the heat with carrots, not only will I get milder pickled jalapeños but also the added bonus of pickled carrots.  This classic pickled is officially called Mexican escabeche and includes jalapeños, carrots and white onions.  Most recipes call for a bay leaf too, but I prefer a lighter, brighter flavor and so leave it out.

Mild Pickled Jalapenos (and Carrots)
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 9 pint jars
 
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds jalapeños, sliced into ⅛th inch rings, seeds and veins removed
  • 3 pounds carrots, sliced into ⅛th inch coins
  • 3 cups finely chopped white onions
  • 6 cups water
  • 6 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 4 T canning salt
  • ⅛ t turmeric per pint jar
  • ¼ t sesame oil per pint jar
Instructions
  1. Prepare the carrots, onions, and jalapenos. De-seeding/de-veining is best done with hands--slice the peppers, put on some disposable gloves and deseed/devein the rings one at a time with your hands. Slow but effective.
  2. Rinse and drain the prepared jalapeno rings in several changes of water to eliminate all seeds.
  3. Meanwhile, bring vinegar, salt and water to a boil.
  4. Add turmeric and sesame oil to clean hot pint jars, then pack tightly with carrots, jalapenos and onions.
  5. Pour hot brine over ingredients leaving ½ inch head space.
  6. Cap and hot water bath process for 10 minutes.
Notes
This recipe is flexible. Reduce it by half or a third. You may also play with the ratio of carrots to peppers. More carrots for less heat more peppers for more. If you find a mild variety of jalapeno you can eliminate the carrots all together. Do not reduce the ratio of water to vinegar if you intend to can it.

After reading this, you might ask, why not just buy the mild pickled jalapeños slices bottled by La Preferida.  Is a $2 quart of fresh jalapeños so compelling?  Well, to me it is, but if it isn’t to you, I have additional reasons.  I like to know the source of my food whenever possible for all sorts of environmental and food safety reasons.  Remember the E. colitainted jalapeños discovered a few years ago?  Do I have to say more?   Also commercial bottled versions come with preservatives and additives like sodium benzoate and sulfides.  While the FDA may generally recognize them as safe in the amount typically eaten, I would just as well avoid them if I can.  Cancer is cancer no matter how tenuous the link.

More pickle recipes and information:

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Best Tomato Salsa Recipe for Canning…so far.

My family enthusiastically rushes to the table whenever I make Mexican anything.  For us, no condiment better complements Mexican foods than salsa fresca—that fresh and feisty combination of onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro and lime.  For about 6 months of the year, this posed no problem as fresh tomatoes are easily accessible, but the other 6 months…well, I got a problem.  Because we try to eat local as much as possible, the solution seems apparent, just can some salsa during tomato season.  So I tried that again and again and again.   I searched for years to find a decent, tested tomato salsa recipe for canning with no success.

Faced with disappointment, I put the dream of a good canned tomato salsa on the shelf and moved on to explore other options.  We tried commercial brands, even high-end ones, but with their mushy texture and over-cooked flavor we unanimously rejected them all.

Making salsa fresca with out-of-season grocery store tomatoes also met with dead-end results.  Grape tomatoes had an acceptable flavor, but a thick skin and high price made them an un-solution.  Roasting paste tomatoes enhanced their flavor but made a sloppy salsa and took too much time.  I thought that I had arrived at the perfect solution when I discovered the Kumato—a rich, red-brown tomato perfectly packaged in cellophane.  While pricy, the flavor was excellent particularly considering the source and the season.  But when something seems too good to be true, it is.  A bit of research revealed that Syngenta, the company that developed the Kumato, collided with my ethics.  Syngenta has patented the Kumato’s seeds and strictly regulates the farmers allowed to grow the plant.  I believe that farmers have a right to save seeds and that life cannot be patented, and I am back to square one.

So this summer I once again took up the crusade to find a decent canned salsa recipe, and I think that I finally got it.   While it does require cooking before canning (thus diminishing that fresh flavor), it doesn’t taste overcooked. It uses lime, the logical choice to acidify the tomato salsa–a far superior flavor compared with vinegar.  It has adequate cilantro flavor, and the texture, because it uses paste tomatoes, remains firm.  Although nothing compares to salsa fresa with vine-ripened tomatoes, this is a good substitute with the added benefit of convenience. Once made and on the shelf, it essentially becomes an instant food—a blessing if not a lifesaver at times when you have 10 minutes to prepare a meal for hungry, whining kids.

Use safe canning practices.  Click her for step-by-step hot water-bath canning instructions.

Best Tomato Salsa Recipe for Canning...so far.
Author: 
Recipe type: Preserving
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 half pints
 
Recipe adapted from University of Wisconsin Extension Salsa publication.
Ingredients
  • 7 cups peeled, cored, seeded and chopped paste tomatoes (about 3½ lbs.)
  • 1 cup seeded and finely chopped green chilies—from hot to mild
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • ½ cup bottled lime juice
  • 2 t salt
  • ½ t cumin
  • ⅔ cup finely chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
  2. Add cilantro and simmer for another 10 minutes; continue stirring.
  3. Ladle into hot half-pint jars leaving ½ head space.
  4. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes at 0—1000 feet altitude; 20 minutes at 1001-6000 feet; or 25 minutes about 6000 feet.
Notes
You can easily double or triple this recipe. I like to use ½ pint jars to can salsa but you can follow these same instructions and use pint jars.