One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Instant "Pickles": Lemon-Mustard Marinated Vegetables

Vegetables. They are the unloved children of the food world. Few of us would gravitate towards brussels sprouts or okra if given a choice. Nevertheless, their myriad health benefits are well-known and we can all stand to get a bit more of them into our diet. For me, the trouble with vegetables is twofold. First of all, I don't always have the energy, after I get home from work, to wash, peel and chop. Second, I don't like vegetables cooked to the point of mushiness. This recipe, from a great food blog called Just Hungry, takes care of both problems. It is make-ahead, lasts four to five days in the fridge, makes an excellent side dish for everything from fried fish to the most luxurious gratin, and keeps the vegetables wonderfully crisp. 

These aren't true pickles but rather vegetables marinated overnight in a flavorful mix of lemon juice, honey, mustard and spices. The honey won't make the marinade sweet, its purpose is to cut the bite of the lemon juice. You can use pretty much any combination of vegetables that you like. As mentioned in the original recipe, cook tougher vegetables like carrots, cauliflower and broccoli in boiling water before marinating them. I boil them for no more than 30 seconds in order to preserve their crispness.

I used purple cauliflower, which is the culprit behind the fabulous lurid purple color in the photo!

Lemon-Mustard Marinated Vegetables
This recipe is very open to adaptation. You can vary not only the vegetables but also the spices: A pinch of cayenne, some garlic, a little ginger or a couple of cloves might add interesting dimensions. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, the spices can be crushed with the bottom of a heavy pan. You can substitute the whole spices with a pinch of ground, but I quite like the heady crunch of a bit of allspice or pepper against the vegetables. 

1 small head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch wide strips
2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch wide strips
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh-squeezed lemon juice, from about 3 lemons
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp whole-grain mustard
1/4 tsp whole allspice, coarsely cracked in a mortar and pestle
1/4 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely cracked in a mortar and pestle
1/4 tsp salt

1. Mix the lemon juice, mustards, allspice and peppercorns in a tupperware big enough to contain all the vegetables.

2. Put the honey and salt in a small bowl and microwave for 20 seconds to melt the honey. Mix this into the lemon juice. 

3. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the cauliflower and carrot and boil 30 seconds, then drain. Immediately add to the tupperware with the lemon juice, add the pepper, then mix well. 

4. Let cool, uncovered and stirring occasionally, then cover tightly with the lid and refrigerate overnight. 

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