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“Many Grandmas'” Asian Pickles

September 7, 2012

Left to right: Popo, my mum on her 16th birthday, and my mum’s cousin

One of the most common questions I get asked about my cookbook is: “Which one’s your grandma?”

My sad reply: “She’s not in there.”

I didn’t really know either of my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother, whom I called Oma, (I wrote about her in this post) lived in Indonesia while we were growing up in Singapore.

When I was little, Oma would stay with us for extended visits once in awhile and we would make the one-hour flight over to Jakarta once or twice a year. But the language barrier and her ailing health prevented us from developing a deeper relationship.

When I was 24, Oma passed away after being bedridden for many years. I only learned her name then: Sicilianti.

Popo was the maternal grandmother I never knew. As a matter of fact, I just found out that her name was Helli. Popo died of breast cancer when I was very young, before I could make any memories of her.

What I do know is that Popo was a fabulous cook and thankfully her culinary legacy lives on in my mother. However, when I asked my mother for a specific recipe for this post, she told me Popo cooked traditional Indonesian dishes but everything was kira kira, estimated, without ukuran, or measurements.

Over the years, I’ve envied my friends who had grandmothers who cooked for them, regaled them with stories, and gave them presents (ding ding!).

By the powers that be, “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” project serendipitously fell into my lap. What became a labor of love also somehow completed me, filling this childhood void.

Today, I am thankful for all the surrogate grandmothers I met during this amazing journey. These women shared their incredible stories with me, many gave me sage advice in and out of the kitchen, and a few still check up on me once in a while.

Above all, they have given me the most meaningful gifts—their treasured recipes that I will continue to cook for my family and pass on to my children.


“Many Grandmas'” Asian Pickles

This month, my kind #LetsLunch buddies are posting about grandma recipes in honor of my paperback book launch last month. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of my grandmother’s recipes to share but I decided to come up with a “many grandmas'” quick pickle recipe.

I learned some great pickle tips while working on the book. Grandma Nellie taught me to randomly strip the cucumber of peel for a pretty finish, and to salt the vegetables to draw out moisture and make them crunchier (although I never found much difference). She also showed me how to feather the edges of the cucumber so the pieces can absorb the brine chop-chop. (Slicing the cucumber paper-thin as I’ve done below has the same effect). And Grandma Ling used maple syrup (instead of the prepared ginger syrup she was used to back home) to sweeten her brine. Yet another grandma massaged her carrot and daikon sticks before pouring the brine over.

So here is my quick pickle recipe lassoing tips, tricks and ideas learned from all the grandmas (including my mum who is grandma to my son) in my life together with my own adaptations.

Time: 15 minutes plus standing and brining
Makes: 1 pint

2 large seedless cucumbers (European or Persian cucumbers would be lovely too)
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons maple-flavored agave syrup (I used *Wholesome Sweeteners brand. You can also use maple syrup, regular agave syrup or honey, but start with less and adjust the amounts to taste)
1 clove garlic, smashed
Pinch crushed chipotle chilies

Halve each cucumber lengthwise. Place one half flat-side down on your cutting board, and using a vegetable peeler (a ‘Y’-peeler works great), slice the cucumber lengthwise into paper-thin strips. Repeat with the rest of the cucumbers.

Peel the carrot. Using a lemon zester, make nicks at equal intervals down the length of the carrot. Slice the carrot crosswise into thin slices. The slices will look like flowers.

Place the vegetables in a colander and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let them sit over the sink while you prepare the brine. (Skip this step if you’re in a hurry. I don’t find much different if you don’t salt the veggies first).

In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, water, maple syrup, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, garlic, and chilies. Microwave on medium-high for 30 seconds. Stir the brine, making sure all the sugar has dissolved. Taste and adjust the seasonings if desired. Go read a chapter in a book while you let the brine cool.

Rinse the vegetables and shake dry. Toss them into the bowl with the brine, mix well and chill for at least one hour. Serve with fried rice, noodles, or munch on it throughout the day. This is a great snack if you’re pregnant too!

*I didn’t purchase the Wholesome Sweeteners maple-flavored agave syrup but I use it because I like it, not because it was free.


This post is  part of #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck. This month it’s a tribute to grandmas and their recipes.

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below (the list will be constantly updated). And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Charissa‘s Apple, Pecan & Raisin Gluten-Free Depression Cake at Zest Bakery

Cheryl’s My Tanglin Ah-Ma’s Gambling Rice at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Emma‘s Irish, Polish & Korean Grandmothers’ Recipes at Dreaming of Pots & Pans

Jill‘s Stuffed Cabbage at Eating My Words

Karen‘s Semifreddo at GeoFooding

Linda‘s Taiwanese Oyster Omelet at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Polish Potato Cake at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Grandma Kitty’s Biscuits at A Cook and Her Books

Renee‘s Chinese Grandmother’s Tofu at My Kitchen And I

21 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2013 4:47 am


  2. Mary D permalink
    June 22, 2013 1:55 pm

    These are really good. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. September 9, 2012 7:41 pm

    Congratulations! And I have *just* become fascinated with quick pickles, so your post is very well timed. I’ll have to try the recipe.

    • September 19, 2012 11:50 pm

      Annabelle, I hope you like the pickles as much as I do. Quick pickles are the only kind I make. I don’t have the time or patience for other types. Let me know how it goes!

  4. September 9, 2012 5:44 pm

    I love this post, Pat! Like you, I didn’t know either of my grandmothers (or grandfathers). But I love the idea of celebrating them with the recipes of other grannies. I’ll be following the Let’s Lunch posts with interest. And thank you for your pickle recipe — I’ve been making a lot of quick pickles this summer that were much too sharp. Now I know how important the sugar is!

    • September 19, 2012 11:56 pm

      Hi Ann,
      You should join us for Let’s Lunch! It’s a fun group of Twitterers/bloggers. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll intro you to Cheryl, unless you already know her? I’ve made my fair share of sharp pickles so I definitely recommend lots of sugar!

  5. September 9, 2012 3:39 pm

    What beautiful pictures and a recipe that even this canning-phobic cook can try! Love the memories!

    • September 19, 2012 11:58 pm

      Thank you, Lucy! I don’t can either so quick pickles are my saviour. Hope you’ll try it!

  6. September 8, 2012 3:12 pm

    Huh. Never knew what PoPo looked like when she was younger. The only photos I remember of both Po2 and Gong2 were the ones that used to sit on the altar. You know, the one where Gong2 really looks like Lee Kuan Yew (and made it very clear where we get our “stick out ears”)?

    • September 20, 2012 12:00 am

      Hi Mo Mo, I love this photo of Popo and mummy, much better than the solemn altar photo.

  7. September 8, 2012 12:19 pm

    That is a touching story you tell about the book, Pat, and thank you for all the pickle tips. Good luck with your book. I hope it makes the bestseller lists!🙂

    • September 20, 2012 12:04 am

      Thanks, Renee. My book is doing quite well and I’m keeping my fingers crossed! Good luck with pickling!

  8. September 7, 2012 5:25 pm

    Hi Pat, Congrats again on the paperback launch of your fantastic cookbook! I am going to be trying out all the recipes. And I also love that old photo– stylish mama!

    • September 20, 2012 12:06 am

      Thank you, Linda! I hope you enjoy the recipes. Isn’t it a great photo? My mum was and is still very stylish, quite the polar opposite of simple me🙂.

  9. September 7, 2012 2:48 pm

    I love that old photo — how beautiful! And what a cool cookbook you have…congratulations and can’t wait to cook from it!

    • September 20, 2012 12:10 am

      Thanks, Cheryl! I hope you enjoy the cookbook.


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