During this summer’s “Downtown Crazy Days,” a friend and I stopped at Bozeman’s newest taco truck for a lunch break from all the bargain shopping. Actually, it’s not a truck. Rather a vintage Spartan trailercoach. One end of the trailercoach serves up genuine, homemade ice cream. On the side where the windows are, one person takes orders. Then, at a second window, a chef cooks and assembles tacos with homemade everything. Including their own pickled peppers escabeche (pronounced es-cah-BAYT-chay).
The day we were there, a half-gallon jar of the colorful condiment sitting by the order window looked too tasty to resist. So tasty, that my friend and I each ate a cupful of escabeche with a spoon while waiting for our tacos. What fun, sitting on tall stools overlooking Bozeman’s Main Street and eating tacos.
That was early August. By the end of August, riotously colored hot and mild chili peppers appeared at the Saturday market. I bought organically grown yellow, green, chartreuse, orange and red peppers to make my own lacto-fermented Escabeche.
Escabeche – the condiment
You may know jalapeños in escabeche from the small cans in the ethnic section of grocery stores. Or perhaps you’ve enjoyed it as a condiment served in Mexican restaurants to accompany everything from tacos to burritos to nachos to all of your favorite Mexican foods.
Escabeche means “to pickle.” The only escabeche I’ve ever seen/tasted has been pickled with vinegar. Though I’m sure that traditionally, as with all pickles, it was lacto-fermented.
Do give this recipe for naturally fermented Escabeche a try. You’ll love the way the process of fermentation both increases the health benefits and mellows the hot peppers. These pickled peppers have a complexity of flavor just not available in vinegar-brined pickles.
As a reminder, lacto-fermentation produces probiotic, enzyme and nutrient-rich foods that
♥ taste sensational,
♥ balance intestinal flora,
♥ support the immune system,
♥ improve digestion and elimination, and
♥ boost the nutrient levels of foods eaten along with them.
Say es-cah-BAYT-chay the Mexico way
Having a similar name and the same spelling, many people confuse and mispronounce the Mexican escabeche (es-cah-BAYT-chay) with the European escabeche (es-cah-BESH). In Europe, it’s a different product altogether. There pan-fried fish is simmered in a vinaigrette made from wine vinegar, wine, olive oil, stock, herbs, onions and garlic.
Hot and healthy
Chili peppers contain very high levels of compounds called capsaicinoids, the most well know of which is capsaicin. These compounds give peppers their heat as well as extraordinary anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-cancer and heart-healthy benefits. BTW, chili peppers also contain about twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits.
Oregano — Mexican versus Mediterranean
Two different flavors, two different origins. That said, I only grow Greek Oregano in our garden, so that’s the oregano flavoring my escabeche. Greek oregano is in the mint family. Mexican oregano is related to lemon verbena and has a slight citrusy flavor. Although they are not interchangeable, use what you have and what you like.
These spicy, flavorful and hot pickled chili peppers, carrots and onion seasoned with garlic, peppercorns and oregano accompany many Mexican meals. Lacto-fermented escabeche (pronounced es-cah-BAYT-chay) makes for both complex flavors and outstanding health benefits.
Click here for more information on the art of natural fermentation. For the best results, be sure to use organically grown chili peppers. As most conventionally grown chili peppers are high in pesticide residue, that residue could keep the mixture from fermenting.
You can slice everything by hand as I did. Or use a food processor’s slicing blades to make even quicker work, even if some of the slices are imperfect. I’ve provided the millimeter size for the slicing blade I recommend for each item. In either case, be sure to wear gloves when working with hot peppers.
Makes 4 pints (8 cups) Printer-Friendly Recipe
2 tablespoons sea salt dissolved in 1 quart filtered water
¾ pound of hot and mild chili peppers, preferably organic
8 ounces white onion
10 ounces carrots, preferably organic
6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh oregano.
- Dissolve the salt in the filtered water. Set aside.
- Remove the stems from the chili peppers. Thinly slice them no more than ¼-inch thick. (4mm slicing blade) You should have about 4 cups of sliced peppers.
- Peel and trim the onion, thinly slice it from stem end to the flower end 1/8-inch thick. (4 mm slicing blade)
- Slice the carrots into very thin rounds. (2mm slicing blade) You will have about 4 cups of sliced carrots.
- Very thinly slice the peeled garlic. (2mm slicing blade)
- Mix all the vegetables and garlic together with the oregano and peppercorns in a large bowl.
- Pack the mixture tightly into clean jars using a cabbage crusher or your fist to compact the mixture. Leave at least 1-inch of head space between the top of the vegetables and the top of the jar.
- Divide the salt water brine between the jars to completely cover the vegetables. Add glass or ceramic weights to keep everything submerged.
- Cover each jar with a lid. Place the jars in a cupboard to ferment. Burp the jars once each day. Begin tasting the brine on the 4th day. When the brine tastes pleasantly sour to you, remove the jars to the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process.
- Store the jars in the refrigerator. The chili peppers will continue to mellow and their flavors will grow more complex under refrigeration. For the best flavor, wait 7 days before enjoying your Escabeche.