The first time I tried pickled cauliflower I was in Lisbon, Portugal in the mid 90's. I had quit my job and taken 6 months to travel around Europe on my own. My mom had decided to meet up with me for a few weeks and we rented a car and travelled through Portugal and Spain together. It was a welcome respite from trains and buses, hostels and cheap meals.
We had heard about this restaurant from some locals that we had run into earlier in the day and I can tell you I was looking forward to a hearty meal. My chicken dish came with a side of pickled carrots and cauliflower. Now I am not a fan of cauliflower in general. I rarely make dishes that include it, much to my husband's disappointment. So when I first received my meal I had kind of shuffled them to the side and determined I would leave them on my plate.
But then I took my first bite of the carrots and the flavour was amazing. You could tell these pickles had not been made recently, that they have been allowed some time for all the flavours to come together before someone opened that jar. The vinegar was tangy but not overwhelming, they were slightly spicy yet through it all you got the subtle flavour of the carrots. I decided I needed to know what this amazing brine had done to the cauliflower. WOW! Was I ever in for a treat. Yes, you could still taste the cauliflower, yet somehow the marriage of the cauliflower with the vinegar and the spices used brought it to life.
My mom and I went back the next night so we could have the pickles once more - and that is no lie. We even ordered them as a side to our meal so we could have more. I raved to our waiter about how great they were and told him that my mom made pickles and I would love the recipe. He politely smiled and said thank you and at the same time managed to completely deflect my request for the recipe.
The following recipe is the closest I have come to replicating the flavour of the pickled cauliflower I had all those years ago. It comes pretty close in my estimation and after leaving the first jar sit for 8 weeks it was opened for the first time this weekend and my husband and I had to put the lid back on and physically push the jar out of arms reach or we would have finished it in one sitting.
- 4-5 medium to large heads of cauliflower, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 tsp crushed pepper flakes per jar
- ½ tsp mustard seed per jar
- ½ tsp dill seed per jar
- 1 whole garlic per jar
- 5 cups vinegar (1150 g)
- 5 cups water (2520 g)
- ½ cup salt (115g)
Wash and pat dry the cauliflower and cut it into bite size pieces. Place cauliflower pieces into your jars and fill tightly. Add spices and garlic.
Meantime, pour the vinegar and water into an 8 quart stainless steel pan over medium high heat. Add the salt and bring to a boil.
Ladle the hot syrup into the jars leaving ½” headspace. Using a spatula or plastic knife remove any air bubbles, and if necessary add more syrup. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth and cover with the hot lids and apply the screw rings.
Process 500ml jars in a 180-185F water bath for 30 minutes.
Yields – 5 to 6, 500ml jars