Pickles | Muraturi

Pickling is one savory approach to preserve fruits and vegetables for a few months. The most popular pickles in Romania are made with cucumbers, unripe tomatoes (green ones are ok, but the orange almost-ripe-but-not-quite-there-yet ones are perfect), and bell peppers (often stuffed with shredded cabbage). The most out of the ordinary one that I've ever encountered used watermelon - they were quite tasty, but only the rind had some firmness left in it. Pickles are very common in Romania during the winter and spring months, when they are used as side dishes to complement stews and other entrees.

Note that all quantities presented below are approximate: what you end up needing depends on the size of the jar and how tightly you pack everything in. Consider preparing a bit more brine than you need: you'll find it preferable to preparing less and having to do a second batch. Also, consider preparing more jars, as they take a while to be ready and are finished quite quickly.

 - Two cups of vegetables: green tomatoes, mini bell peppers, slices of carrots and/or cucumbers, and whatever else you might be in the mood to pickle
 - One and a half cups of water
 - Half a cup of vinegar
 - Two or three garlic cloves
 - A dried chili pepper
 - One tablespoon of pickling salt or sea salt
 - One teaspoon of spices: mustard and dill seeds (whole). I use a pack of pickling spices, which also includes cumin, bay leaves, black pepper, and other goodies.
 - A few long dill or cilantro stems.

 - Carefully wash the vegetables, slice whatever is needed (for example, the carrots or cucumbers), and peel the garlic cloves. Place them all in a clean jar, together with the chili pepper. Place the dill or cilantro stems on top: they add flavor, but also secure the vegetables and keep them submerged in the brine.
 - Place water, vinegar, salt and spices in a pot, and bring them to a boil. When ready, carefully pour everything over the vegetables all the way to the top of the jar - least air helps preserve this for longer, as bacteria don't particularly enjoy the salt and vinegar in the bring. Seal the jar tightly when ready.
 - Let the pickle jars sit in a dark cool corner (e.g. in the pantry, if you have space) for about a month, before serving.

 - Remove an assortment of pickled vegetables from the jar, and offer them as a side dish to an entree of your choice. My favorites pairings include pickles with the vegetable medley stew, the rice pilaf with chicken, or the bean stew with smoked meats.