There are the cookbooks you love and then there are the cookbooks that forever change your kitchen life. Karen Solomon’s Asian Pickles is both for me and has been ever since I bought it as a series of ebooks released late in 2013. The hardcover book, where you can find all of the ebooks bound together, was released this year. It includes added material which is crazy because the ebooks were already an overstuffed accordion folder of wonderful offerings.
The book is broken down into geographical sections: Japan, Korea, China, India and Southeast Asia, which includes recipes for Thai, Vietnamese, Philipino, and Indonesian and Malaysian pickles. Each chapter is a delight that showcases Solomon’s spirited love for the pickled dishes of these places where she has traveled, learned and eaten extremely well.
Last year I spent most of my time with the Japanese ebook, building a houseful of miso beds, nukdokos and cooking up loads of koji. After my first weekend with Solomon’s Japan, I bought the lot, and rarely have I made such an excellent culinary/literary decision. Although the hardcover, combined book goes well beyond the realm of fermented pickles, it feels like a fermenter wrote this book. The tone is relaxed, encouraging and often quite funny. The descriptions are extraordinarily evocative. Step-by-step photos could not be less necessary than they are with Solomon’s prose leading you into the temptation of wildly diverse pickling styles.
There are plenty of things here you are just going to want to make, be they fermented or refrigerated. There are plenty of cultured and fermented vegetables, made in traditional and less traditional fashions. There are plenty of recipes that are not written as ferments that are easily made into ferments (I’ve adapted several of the recipes from the Chinese and Indian sections of this book from vinegar pickles to ferments with great success).
I’ve spent a lot of time with this book and it will be on my shelf until the end of time or until it falls apart at the binding (I guess that’s what three-hole punches and binder rings are for). There are layers and layers of flavors here. There are so many brilliant and astounding techniques from different Asian traditions that you may sometimes feel shocked that you’ve been able to live your kitchen life without knowing many of them. I certainly was.
In addition to the incredible number of techniques and the beautifully conceived and conveyed recipes, Solomon offers an overview of how each type of pickle would traditionally be served and eaten. This book made me realize that I was stuck in a rut, even though I was experimenting in the kitchen every day. It gave me the nudge to make things like my nukadoko and my first batch of indoor gochujang (for years I’d been hung up on the idea that it needed to be made outdoors in the sun). It’s had me putting my funky, fun herbs and spices to excellent use and it has inspired never-ending reams of ideas that I will share with you, undoubtedly, over the course of many years to come.
If you don’t win the giveaway, buy this book. I can’t imagine a fermenter who wouldn’t adore it from cover to cover. When not in use, it holds the truest place of honor in my home; right next to my (now signed!) copy of The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz on my fermentation bookshelf.
I purchased the ebooks, but I was provided with a free copy of the printed version by Ten Speed Press. Ten Speed will also be providing the winner with his or her own copy to hold, squeeze, love and splatter with delicious, pickled juices. All opinions are my own.