Lido's Mark Zeitouni Makes Pickles With a Kick

Tropical Storm Emily formed yesterday in the Caribbean, and if you're like us, you're getting your gourmet canned food ready in case she hits on Saturday. If you want to take an even less practical route, how about pickling some cucumbers in case you need to preserve those veggies for the long haul? Okay, okay, it's a time consuming process (and most likely not what you should be doing with a hurricane on the way), but at least you'll have some home made condiments to go with your pate.

Our rather luxurious lifestyles aside, pickling's reputation is more about conservation than going gourmet. For Chef Mark Zeitouni, of Lido Restaurant at the Standard Hotel, pickling is a process that adds flavor to his dishes, as well as represents the different flavors of his life.

He spoke with us over the phone about his Egyptian influence, serving tomatoes in San Francisco, and infusing his pickles with jalapeño juice.

New Times: Tell us about the pickling that you do at Lido.

Mark Zeitouni: We used to have pickles on the menu, but now they're just used for special events. We had them on the menu for long time.

What type of pickles do you make at the restaurant?

Since we're a Mediterranean spa hotel, we serve hummus, olives, and other little dishes. For a long time we had pickled baby carrots, which are really traditional. My father's from Egypt and when my aunt and him cooked there was always a plate of some sort of pickled vegetables on the table.

Is that how you began pickling?

No. I was working in San Francisco and the thing there is they don't really use products outside of their area. The whole farm to table thing with them started a lot earlier, and they took it to an extreme. Say its winter and you put a tomato on your burger, the people would look at you and ask why there's a tomato there. Unlike here where food is imported year round.

How would you incorporate the farm to table lifestyle in your cooking?

Take peach season -- if you wanted to do a dish that had peaches in it in the winter, the farmers would come to us at the height of their season and we would preserve it for later on. I started by canning. (It's called canning, but you usually use a jar.) With the peaches we would do a ginger syrup, we would seal the jars, and we could use them all year round and tell people we canned them.

What is the difference between canning and pickling?

Canning is a little different than pickling. Pickling is a specific balance of vinegar, water, and salt. Canning can be anything like peaches and syrup, tomato sauce, preserves, jellies, and jams. Pickling can be anything from carrots to pigs' feet, but in the Mediterranean it's usually vegetables that you eat as a condiment to the meat.

What types of food can you pickle?

You can pickle radishes, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes ... I've never pickled meat products, like pigs feet, but I've seen that in Southern-style cooking.

What was the first dish you made that involved your home made pickles?

One of the first dishes I ended up doing was making a dish with pickled salad. It had cucumbers, watermelon rind, baby carrots, and cauliflower. We came up with spicy dill pickles and we really wanted the flavors of the jalapeño and horseradish, and we didn't know anyone else that was doing it. I've done that recipe for about 15 years.

What is your style of pickling?

Mine would be considered more of a crunchy style spicy dill pickle. With baby carrots, I'll do a little bit of an Asian style using rice vinegar. I'll put the spice I'm going to use, whether it's coriander seed or mustard seed and take the carrots and cook it in there until it's a good halfway cooked. Then I'll let it sit to room temperature and put it in the fridge. You can almost eat those right away, but they build in flavor after about 24 hours.

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Alexandra Leon
Contact: Alexandra Leon