There is a Greek Orthodox holiday called clean Monday (kathara deftera). It’s the end of carnival (the Sunday right before it, when everyone dresses up in costumes, much like Halloween) and the beginning of the great lent before Easter. Carnival is the last day of being able to eat meat and clean Monday is the first day of fasting. Since it always takes place in the spring, the tradition has always been to go out into the countryside and have a picnic that is all vegetarian.
Even as a kid, I wasn’t that excited by the idea of eating on the hard ground outdoors. But there was one reason for which I really looked forward to clean Monday: the pickles. These weren’t the American variety pickles, in salted brines or heavy on spices. These were pure vinegar, sugar, and water pickles. There were all kinds of vegetables (cauliflower, beets, carrots), all tantalizingly tart and crisp. And there was pickla, a mixture of veggies pickled in a vinegar and mustard sauce that I ate by the spoonful.
I absolutely loved everything pickled, and I still do. This recipe for pickled carrots couldn’t be simpler. It’s a little different than how carrots would have been pickled when I was a kid, but it still has everything I love: bracing sourness, a satisfying amount of sweetness, and an audible crunch.
Note: If you don’t have the right spices, don’t worry. You can use whatever whole spices you have. Experiment with different flavors.
1 lb carrots peeled, and cut into 1/2″ thick sticks
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
2 mason jars or any other glass containers that can withstand boiling water
Place carrot sticks in mason jars (don’t pack them too tight; leave room for the brine). Divide peppercorns, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and garlic between the jars.
In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a boil, stirring to make sure the sugar and salt dissolve. Carefully pour boiling brine over carrots in mason jars, leaving only about 1/2 inch from top. Let them cool for about 30 minutes, close jars with their lids, and refrigerate.
Pickles are ready to eat after just a few hours but they are best after a day or two. They last in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.