I have talked about preserves last time, summer being the perfect season to put aside all kinds of seasonal fruits and veggies. Apart from cherries in syrup, that I made with the leftover of our recent harvest, and kovászos uborka, which I intend to prepare with my freshly bought pickling cucumbers, there is one preserve I never miss the occasion to make when this time comes. And it actually turned out so well this time that I’m afraid the jars won’t last till winter at all.
One shouldn’t forget that cabbage, though mostly favored in autumn and winter, is as well as tomatoes, courgette or eggplant, a summer vegetable. It started appearing on the stalls of the farmers’ market a few months ago, but then it was semmilyen, like my grandma would say (literally meaning “of no sort”). But when I saw the first large head of cabbage, made of beautifully interweaved crisp and tender leaves, I couldn’t help thinking about csalamádé again.
At the same time, I found interesting purple bell peppers, which were to pleasantly surprise me with their pale green inside color (which they seem to take on as they cook too) and their fresh smell and taste, very reminiscent of the Hungarian paprikas‘. That what an even better start for csalamádé.
Csalamádé is a vinegar-pickled vegetable mix, consisting mainly of cabbage, then of onions and peppers (preferably hot) in equal shares, plus of some carrot for the colour. They’re all shredded as thinly as possible. A mandolin would be of some help to save prep time if you own an efficient one, but I find hand-slicing more reliable to get the desired shred sizes (except for the carrot, which is just nice when grated).
The pickling process requires scarcely any skills, apart from patience. It is mostly about playing with your food, then waiting for the vegetables to ferment under the combined action of salt, vinegar and sugar. The resulting mix has a right balance between sweet and sour, with a little leftover crunch which make it very pleasant to munch on on its own, along a glass of aperitif, or to refresh in the course of a heavier meal.
My grandma uses a salt, preservative and spice blend she calls “Zelko” to secure the preserving process, which imparts a very specific taste to her preserves. However, it’s useless to add preservatives to the csalamádé in case you don’t make big batches of it and don’t intend to keep it for years. On the other hand, neither is it an easy task to find “Zelko” products outside Central Europe, nor do I like using this kind of stuff.
After quite a few trials, I succeeded in replicating the pickling and seasoning blend, thus reproducing the taste I’m seeking in csalamádé, with pantry-friendly ingredients. Based on well-sourced, in-season and hand-cut ingredients, plus a lowered sugar content, this is therefore with no doubt the best recipe of csalamádé I know so far. Contrary to my expectations, even my fiancé, who’s hard to please with fermented veggies, gave in to seconds !
Hungarian csalamádé (sweet and sour pickle of grated summer vegetables)
Yields ~3 cups
- 1 head summer white cabbage (~ 2 lb/500 gr.)
- 4 peppers, hot or sweet (Hungarian white, banana, purple varieties preferred)
- 4 onions (I used large spring shallots)
- 3 small carrots
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 90 gr. (~ 1/4 cup) sugar (I used light brown cane sugar)
- 100 ml (a bit more than 3/4 cup) white pickling vinegar
- 1 tsp dried dill
- ¾ tsp mustard grains
- ½ tsp coriander grains
- ¼ tsp peppercorns
- 2 cloves
- 1 pinch of ground bay leaf
- 1 pinch of allspice powder
- 1 pinch of ground juniper berries
- 1 pinch of chili flakes
- 1 pinch of ginger powder
Remove the outer wilted leaves of the cabbage, if any, and rinse it thoroughly under running water. Quarter and slice each quarter thinly lengthwise, either with a sharp knife or a mandolin. Rinse the peppers, remove the stem, seeds and inner membranes, then slice them thinly too. Peel the onions/shallots as needed, halve them and cut them either lengthwise or crosswise into slices, making sure they separate well. Skin and grate the carrots using the larger grating size. They can also be hand-cut into a thin julienne.
Place the shredded veggies into a large mixing bowl, pot or jar. Combine them quickly while sprinkling eventually the salt over them. Rest the mix a couple of hours, tossing from time to time. The veggies will start softening. Meanwhile, add the sugar to the vinegar and stir it until the sugar gets dissolved and the vinegar somewhat syrupy. Stir in finally the seasonings and pour it over the veggies. Combine everything thoroughly, by hand and so as to make sure the seasoned vinegar coats well the whole vegetable mix (kitchen gloves can be worn if you fear it might not be good for your skin).
Cover it loosely – I use the lid of my pot, which isn’t airtight, but a towel, cling wrap or cheesecloth would be nice as well. Set it aside at room temperature for no less than 24 hours to ferment – it doesn’t take more when it’s around 100°F. Once the veggies look completely shrivelled up in a pleasantly sour smelling bath, it’s ok.
Sterilize the jars as you like to do (I steam them along with their lids for 20 mns) and let them dry on a clean kitchen towel. Wash your hands well. Working with a handful at a time, squeeze all juice out of the vegetable mix and pack it into the jars. Then, pour just enough juice into each jar to cover up the veggies before putting the lids on. If you’d like to keep them for 1 year or so, sterilise the jars in boiling water just like here, then keep them in a cool place. Or, keep them simply as they are in a cool place for 3 months or so.
To serve, use a clean fork or tongs. Keep refrigerated any opened pot and consume the content quickly. Therefore I recommend not using too large jars. Serve as an appetizer, a starter with some bread, or a side, e.g. for grilled meat or veggie burgers…