My husband’s grandfathers, Benjamin and Jakob, were both called Jack. They lived in New York City, and one of them loved pickles. Like, really, really loved pickles. “The pickles were New York deli pickles that were very crunchy and mildly flavored. No dill pickles!” according to my mother-in-law. In Jack’s memory, we place pickles on our dining table at big family gatherings, including Passover, every year.
I was reminded of Jack and his pickles after a friend texted that he couldn’t attend his weekly cooking class, and would I like to go in his place? I love cooking (obviously), but I haven’t taken a technique class since I was 20. It felt great to be back in a teaching kitchen, and I walked away with a pickled tomato recipe that makes me think not only of Jack but the Jewish affection for these briny treats.
During the 19th century, as culinary historian Claudia Roden writes in “The Book of Jewish Food,” pickled vegetables, particularly preserved cucumbers, cabbages and beets, “were staples in the diet of Jews in Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine and Russia.” Fast-forward a couple of generations and across an ocean, and you could find a variety of pickled foods rolling out of Jewish pushcarts, solidifying pickles in Jewish food lore.
This quick, modern tomato pickle is fabulous on grilled poultry and fish of any kind. This recipe would also be dandy mixed with roasted cauliflower or green beans, and thanks to a little experimentation, I can say with confidence that it’s great when scooped into the center of a grilled cheese sandwich. A San Francisco Cooking School recipe inspires the Pickled Tomatoes.
Makes 4 cups
2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, cored and cut in a 1/2-inch dice
1 bunch green onions, cut in 1/2-inch pieces (white and pale green only)
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced thin
1 Tbs. grated ginger
5 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
2 tsp. whole black peppercorns, crushed or very coarsely ground
11/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. paprika
¼ cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbs. kosher salt
Place tomatoes, green onions and jalapeño pepper in a large sealable glass container. In a small bowl, measure out and mix together ginger, garlic, peppercorns, mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin and paprika. In a small-bottomed but heavy and steep-sided saucepan, heat the oil until very hot. When it just begins to smoke, add ginger-spice mixture. Stir and remove from heat, stirring until bubbling oil subsides. Pour the hot oil and spices over the tomatoes. Stir to coat. Wipe out the saucepan. Add vinegar, brown sugar and salt to saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cool 2 minutes and pour over tomatoes. Cool tomatoes to room temperature. Seal tomatoes tightly and store in fridge for up to one week.