When summer hits, I’m on the lookout for green tomatoes. No, not the heirloom, fancy ones that are green in their ripe state. I’m talking rock hard, unripe tomatoes. They’re firm, meaty and perfect for pickling because they’ll retain a little crunch. I eat pickles too fast to do the canning jars and sterilization. Instead, I do a flash pickle and keep a bunch in the fridge to slide into banh mi sandwiches and to also serve as a side pickle. This is one of my favorite summertime pickles.
I developed this recipe originally for my cookbook, The Banh Mi Handbook. It was a variation for a snow pea pickle. I loved the lemongrass, slight garlicky and spicy chile heat notes so much that in summer when snow peas were not at their peak, I was looking to apply the same flavors.
One day on a walk around our neighborhood, I spied some unripe tomatoes in a neighbor’s yard. I walked by those tomato plants regularly and the person didn’t ever harvest any fruit. Since green tomatoes are not easy to come by on the West Coast (they’re not sold in the supermarket as I’ve seen in some other parts of the country!), I stole some from that neighbor’s house to experiment with.
The resulting green tomato and lemongrass pickle was delicious. My husband and mom adored them as much as I do.
To get a steady supply of the green tomatoes, I asked local farmers at our weekly farmer’s market. “Just call ahead and we’ll pick some for you!” was the response. It was easy as that. That’s how this pickle got into my annual Vietnamese pickling routine and banh mi sandwich playbook. It’s been that way since roughly 2013 when I came up with recipe.
Right now, it’s still early in the tomato season in Santa Cruz. However last weekend, Hmong farmers from hot, inland Fresno had unripe tomatoes at their stall. I swooped in and bought all they had left. Hefty, big ones. That knife has an 8-inch blade, just so you have a sense of size.
I made a triple batch of this pickle, putting it into a Cambro plastic tub. The lemongrass came from our garden and the leaves are so delicious that I bundled them up to include in the brine.
For a Fourth of July potluck, I brought the pickle with hickory smoked pulled pork that my neighbor Dan (not the one I stole tomatoes from!) and I made. No one had eaten such the pickle before and to thank Dan for use of his smoker, I gave him a jar. He said the pickle reminded him of his youth but it was different than what he’d ever eaten in terms of a pickled tomato.
I thanked him for liking my South-meets-Southeast Asia pickle. We had leftover pork so naturally, here’s the green tomato and lemongrass pickle with the pulled pork in a banh mi. Thai basil and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) are included in the sandwich. Happy summer.
Green Tomato and Lemongrass Pickle
Yield 2 cups
- 2/3 pound unripened (green) tomato
- 1 medium lemongrass stalk
- 1 small clove garlic, lightly crushed
- Generous 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or 1 fresh Thai or serrano chile, split lengthwise
- Pinch of ground turmeric (optional)
- 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar, Heinz preferred
- 1/2 cup water
- Depending on the size of the tomato, keep them whole, or halve or quarter them. Regardless, cut the tomato crosswise into pieces about 1/4 inch thick. Pack the tomato into a 2- to 3-cup glass jar. Set aside.
- Trim the lemongrass of rough outer layers. Cut it two 3- to 4-inch pieces, then smack them with the back of a heavy knife or a meat tenderizer to break the fibers and release flavor.
- Put the lemongrass in a small saucepan. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, turmeric, salt, sugar, vinegar, and water. Bring to a boil, take off the heat, and wait for the bubbling to subside. Pour over the tomato. Use a spoon or spatula to gently push the tomato, lemongrass, and chile down. Aim to submerge them in the brine.
- Let cool completely, partially covered, at room temperature. Cap and refrigerate overnight before eating. Keep for up to a month.
Recipe source: Andrea Nguyen's The Banh Mi Handbook (Ten Speed Press, 2014).
Courses banh mi
Do you make pickled green tomatoes? What do you do? How do you enjoy them?