spicy cold celery

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It’d be fair to say I’ve got a lot going on right now. Not Queen Mindy Kaling – starring in my namesake television show while filming a movie, writing a book, and baking a baby – levels of shit going on. But I’ve got some stuff. A new job with a role that pretty much hasn’t stopped changing since my first day in a way that makes me very sleepy. A marathon. Also a hhhwedding. A wedding for which I am making my own cake (eek! maj!) and about which I bitch plenty IRL, so I’ll refrain…for now.

What else? Oh right – cooking, showering, having friends. To be honest the first two have taken a backseat to the third; I just haven’t had a ton of time to cook lately. My usual meal plan of four meals a week is now down to just two, and even those two are hanging on by a thread. (But I believe in me, two meals a week is doable and worth it!) (Self-pep talk in realtime.) 

Luckily I’ve learned from the best that no matter how busy you are, you can always find the time to quick-pickle a vegetable. It’s true, it only takes five minutes. Mix sauce, chop veggies, combine and chill. Das it. And the best part about the whole fleeting process is that pickled veggies make great condiments! Condiments are my favorite part of eating food. They make everything better.

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This recipe in particular I’ve found to be worth its salt har har because on the first night you make it, and even a few days after, you can serve it as more of a side-salad. At this point, it still tastes like well-dressed celery, which sounds less enticing than it is so let me just clarify that I hate plain celery. It’s boring and stringy and tastes the way a doctor’s office smells. But I am all the way into this spicy cold celery, even on the first night when it’s still very much in the initial salad-y state.

Then you put it in a jar to hang out in the fridge. Sometime around the week mark, it emerges from it’s flavor cocoon and butterflies into the fried rice topping of my dreams. That’s because during the chill time the celery soaked up all the salty, spice marinade and released some of its moisture to take on a nice crisp bite, transforming from annoyingly bland and sterile-tasting to punchy crunchy with the perfect amount of that good back-of-the-throat heat that you crave when you’ve been raised to put hot sauce on everything (shout out to the Gulf Coast). This is when I like it best.

My favorite uses for it once it’s reached the pickled point are jazzing up thrown-together rice or noodle bowls and adding intrigue to salads. But you could also use it, finely chopped, in place of relish for egg salad to make a spicy not-your-average kinda version, if you’re into that kind of thing. And who isn’t? I can’t think of a reason not to make it. I mean, I may not have time to return my missed calls, but hell to the yes I’ve got time to make myself some spicy pickles. Priorities remain intact.

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Spicy Cold Celery, adapted in two tiny ways from Lucky Peach presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes

1 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari)
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
4 large celery stalks, slice thinly on an age (roughly 2 1/2 cups)

Stir together the soy (or tamari), toasted sesame oil, sugar, and chili garlic sauce in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves. Add the celery and stir very well until all the celery is coated. Let stand 30 minutes before serving, stirring every once in a while to make sure all of the celery is soaking up the spicy sauce. (If you're making this as part of your dinner, prepare it first and then set it aside, revisiting to stir every once in a while as you prepare your other dishes.) 

The celery keeps well in a sealed jar in the fridge, getting spicier all the while. Though the original recipe says that it keeps up to 3 days, I like to keep it around much longer, as it turns into a sort of condiment after a week or so. I can't think of a more perfect accompaniment to a rice or rice noodle bowl meals.