Curtido, with its sour taste and crunchy texture that perfectly complement the famous pupusas, is a delicious condiment from El Salvador and Central America.
What is curtido?
Curtido is sometimes called “Salvadoran sauerkraut” because it is a kind of pickled cabbage relish or slaw. The curtido recipe is popular in the cuisines of El Salvador and other Central American countries. It is usually prepared with cabbage (repollo), onions (cebolla), carrots (zanahoria) and sometimes lime juice and/or vinegar. The cabbage is brined in vinegar water, which is enough to season it, to perfume it, but also and especially to preserve it.
How to make curtido
The traditional curtido recipe is prepared a few days in advance, which allows it to develop a fermented flavor, but it is also possible to consume this slaw just after a few hours of fermentation. Curtido is the most famous vegetable preserve of El Salvador, as well as Central America. It is sometimes known by other names in Latin America.
Pickles are a widely consumed food, whose preparation technique, designed to help preservation, was already used in ancient times.
What is the origin of vinegar?
Do you know that vinegar came to existence thanks to wine?
The history of vinegar is very old. Quoted repeatedly in the Bible, its origins can be traced to a 10,000 years old Egyptian vase, testifying to the fact that the Egyptians, as well as the Babylonians and Persians, knew about it and used it for the first time to preserve food. It is only thanks to vinegar that food could be transported over long distances for a long time.
In ancient Greece, oxycrat, a beverage composed of vinegar, water and honey was a very popular refreshing drink that was used extensively by the peasants and travelers.
Hippocrates, the “father of medicine”, an extraordinary physician whose doctrines dominated Western civilization until 1700, that is to say, for more than two thousand years, prescribed oxycrat as a remedy against cuts, wounds, and respiratory diseases.
On the Roman side, posca was the popular beverage. The Roman posca was a mixture of water and vinegar. Posca was supposed to “give strength while the wine made you drunk”: Posca fortem, vinum ebrium facit.
A sponge soaked in posca was offered by a Praetorian to Jesus on the cross as a sign of pity on the part of a humble soldier towards what was for him a man agonizing on the cross. On the tables of their famous banquets, the Romans never failed to place the acetabulum: a bowl full of vinegar in which each guest dipped pieces of bread between each dish, to help with digestion.
In Rome, almost all the recipes of Apicius, the famous gastronome of the first century of our era, were based on vinegar. The Romans had different types of vinegar sauces, from the simplest to the famous garum, already discussed during the preparation of Cambodian tuk trey sauce.
Vinegar was also used to season vegetables and salads made from meat and vegetables. And for a process we now call “marinade”, the Romans used vinegar to preserve fried fish.
Pliny the Elder, in Naturalis Historia, recommended vinegar the most varied ailments, “vinegar adds taste and pleasure to life”. During military campaigns, Roman legionaries used vinegar as both a thirst-quenching drink diluted with water and to prevent and treat minor injuries.
What are the benefits of vinegar?
Vinegar is probably the first antibiotic of all time. It is a natural tonic, which fights osteoporosis and aging, eliminates bacteria and reduces inflammation. It is also a great ally for beauty, hygiene and cleanliness of the house.
Indeed, there are those who use vinegar only to season or preserve food, but vinegar has many other benefits: it is useful for health, beauty, cleaning the house and much more.
It is so acidic and helpful. It also serves those who want to lose weight. It is used to disinfect, detoxify, fight inflammation of the joints. In general, vinegar helps to purify and strengthen the body. It also helps tone the skin and keep the hair soft and shiny.
For those who want a clean home then, vinegar is your friend! It cleans carefully, eliminates odors, softens laundry and reduces bacteria. If there is just one essential cleaning agent, it is vinegar!
Pickled vegetable recipes around the world
Like curtido, pickled vegetables are eaten all over the world and homemade ones are definitely unique in flavor.
Here are some examples:
– Italy has its famous giardiniera, one of the great classics of Italian cuisine. Rich and tasty, it is prepared with different vegetables according to the seasons. The traditional recipe contains carrots, celery, cauliflower, onions, peppers and pickles.
– In Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, and Croatia and more generally, throughout the Balkan region and in the Middle East, you can find torshi: the name comes from the Persian word torsh, which means “acid”.
– The French like cornichons (gherkins). They are small cucumbers picked before full they are ripe, immersed in a vinegar mixture with herbs.
– The Dutch are fond of Ingele Gelele Komkommer (yellow cucumber with vinegar), a product of the “Ark of Taste”. Prepared with an ancient variety of watermelon that is almost extinct, it originates from the old Jewish merchants of canned fish from Amsterdam who also prepared pickles.
– Japan pickles ginger in vinegar. In its most popular version, called gari, it is sliced thinly and dipped in a mixture of vinegar, water and sugar. In Japan, you will also find kyuri asazuke, that is very simple to prepare: it is thinly sliced cucumber, that is seasoned with salt, sugar and rice vinegar.
– The most popular pickle in Southeast Asia is achaar, made from peeled mango, cut into pieces and left to dry before being put in jars with herbs and vinegar.
– Korean jangajji is prepared with garlic, daikon (Asian radish), cucumbers, pepper, mint leaves, Korean melon, local herbs, spices and vinegar.
– In America and Oceania, there are many recipes, often related to the original traditions of settlers and immigrant populations. In the United States, the month of November is an opportunity to celebrate National Pickle Day. Among the most typical preparations are chow-chow and pickled eggs and beetroot.
The first is everywhere: its variants are numerous, but the preparation usually contains cabbage, peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, peas, asparagus and tomatoes. As for eggs, they are easily found in American bars: easy to prepare, they only require boiled eggs, beets, chopped dry hot peppers, black pepper and vinegar.
– In Latin America, curtidos and encurtidos are everywhere. They are made with cabbage, onions, carrots, lemon, oregano, salt and vinegar. The Mexican variant only includes carrots, onions and bell peppers.
In Bolivia and Peru, you will find escabeche or ceviche. There are different types throughout Latin America, based on pork offal (feet, ears and intestines), chicken, normally accompanied by pickled onions, carrots, hot peppers, and vegetables, or fish, mainly prevalent in Cuba.
Enjoy pickles all year round, keep your vegetables or other foods with vinegar and salt!
This curtido or pickled cabbage slaw is best enjoyed with Salvadoran pupusas of course. And if you don’t know how to make pupusas, then head straight to our detailed recipe.
- ½ head cabbage , shredded
- 1 large carrot , shredded
- ½ onion , sliced
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Blanch cabbage in boiling water for 1 minute.
- Combine cabbage, carrot and onion in a large bowl.
- Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl, then pour over the cabbage mixture and stir.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably 6 to 8 hours before serving.