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Thursday, May 31, 2012 07:44 pm

Picklese (a.k.a. Pikliz)

This classic condiment can be found on every table in Haiti, oftentimes even when there isn’t a table in that devastated and destitute country. I first heared of Picklese when I was researching for an article about the horrible effects on Haiti rendered by a hurricane in January of 2010. But it was more fully brought home after I realized that virtually all the men working in my daughter’s apartment building’s garage were from Haiti – their lovely lilting French Caribbean-influenced voices were a giveaway. I was there for an almost two-month stretch and sporadic weeks after that. One guy went especially out of his way to be helpful when I had multiple shopping bags as well as a baby to try to safely secure in his car seat (It used to be a lot easier!). As a “Thank you” I began making jars of picklese to give to him. I thought he’d like it, but I’d underestimated how much he appreciated it: “Oh, my wife; she doesn’t like to make this – it’s too hot for her!” Picklese’s liquid is used as a hot sauce; in other dishes the thinly sliced vegetables are used as a sort of slaw/pickle condiment for meat or vegetable preparations. Scotch bonnet peppers are traditional – but their close relatives, habañeros, can be substituted and are more easily found in local groceries. Pepper aficionados distinguish between them, but Scotch bonnets and habeñeros share a flavor profile unique among chilies, as well as a similar Scoville index – the measurement used to classify chiles’ heat levels. Both are incendiary; picklese is not for the faint of heart.
  • 6 Scotch bonnet peppers, or substitute habañeros
  • 2 c. very thinly sliced cabbage
  • 1/2 c. (one half cup)very thinly sliced carrots
  • 1/4 c.(one fourth cup) very thinly sliced onion, not super-sweet, preferably red
  • 1 1/2 (one and one half) tsp. salt
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 4 whole allspice berries
  • 12 peppercorns
  • Approximately 3 c. distilled white vinegar
Use rubber gloves when handling the peppers; alternately, coat your hands with oil before slicing. Stem the peppers and remove the seeds. Slice into thin slivers; place into a medium-large non-reactive bowl. Add the cabbage, carrots, onion and salt, toss to combine. Let stand for about 15 minutes; the salt will wilt the vegetables. Crush the cloves, allspice and peppercorns lightly and add to the bowl. Let stand for another 15 minutes, or about 30 minutes total for the vegetables and spices mixed together. Put the mixture into a quart jar, including any liquid. Add enough vinegar to fill to the top, and stir to combine. Cover tightly and let stand for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours before using, then refrigerate. Makes 1 quart.
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