Those spicy carrots. As ubiquitous as fresh chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and an assortment of salsas at any hole-in-the-wall taqueria in Southern California worthy of its Mexican stripes.
Approaching 10 years of living in NYC, and spicy, pickled taqueria-style carrots are one of the food memories that haunts this California expat yet, go figure.
I’ve dabbled with pickling jalapeños, pickling carrots and the sum of these parts before. I highly recommend Momofuku’s pickled carrots — the brine has a sweetness thanks to rice vinegar and sugar, and just about anything else you have on hand can go into it, in addition to carrots.
This time, though, I was on a hunt for auténtico. When I discovered a post on Tasting Table for “Taqueria-Style Pickled Carrots,” adapted from Kevin West, a Los Angeles-based blogger and author of “Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving” — I knew I was on the right track.
I stayed mostly true to the recipe, skipping the sterilization step as these carrots will live in the fridge for the duration of their short life (they’re already quickly disappearing) and also amping up the spice quotient. I used a mishmash of carrots that we had in the fridge and rough-chopped them to approximately the same size. I also used a white onion.
The brilliance of West’s technique lies in toasting the cumin seeds and crushing the peppercorns, two simple steps that really open up the spices and cause them to bloom, so to speak, in the brine.
Here’s the recipe, simplified and slightly modified:
Taqueria-Style Pickled Carrots
(Adapted from Kevin West via TastingTable)
Makes 2 quarts
2 lb. (approx. ) raw carrots, use whatever you have on hand, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
4 to 6 jalapeños, sliced thinly
8 cloves garlic
2 c. water
2 c. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. peppercorns, lightly crushed (mortar with pestle)
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1) Toast cumin seeds in a small skillet until lightly browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
2) Combine water, vinegar, kosher salt, oregano and peppercorns in a saucepan; bring to a boil at high heat. Add onion and jalapeño and turn off heat.
3) Separately, bring salted water to boil, add carrots and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain in colander and add to onion and jalapeño in brine; return to a boil and then turn off the heat.
4) Divide cumin seeds and garlic cloves between empty jars. With a slotted spoon, divide carrots, onion, jalapeño between jars. Top off with brine and let cool to room temp before fastening lids and storing in the fridge.
**Pickled carrots will be ready to eat in 24 hours and will take on greater intensity the longer they are in the brine — but good luck keeping them around!**
Now, bring on the tacos…