3 1/2 pounds fresh green olives, washed
2 lemons, scrubbed and cut into quarters
4 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 handful fresh hot chili peppers, such as jalapeño, serrano or cubanelle
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
1. Make a brine: Add about 1/2 cup salt to 2 quarts water, mixing to dissolve. Place whole egg in brine. If egg floats, water is salty enough for curing; if egg sinks, add salt and mix gently, repeating until egg floats to surface. Remove egg.
2. Place a third of the olives in a gallon jar with a wide mouth and a tight lid. Add roughly a third of the lemon pieces, a third of the celery, a third of the garlic and a third of the chili peppers. Repeat twice with remaining ingredients, pressing down to pack layers tightly into jar. Top off with a layer of celery pieces.
3. Pour brine into jar until it comes halfway up. Add vinegar and lemon juice. If needed, pour in more brine until jar is almost full. Gently pour a thin layer of oil over surface. Close jar and store at cool room temperature for at least six months. Jar may leak slightly from top as mixture ferments, so store on a tray.
4. Serve plain, or with a tangy cheese such as kashkaval, kasseri or Manchego. Everything can be eaten, and lemon pieces can be used in recipes calling for preserved lemons.
5. Refrigerate after opening. As olives and vegetables are removed, keep remainder covered with brine or oil. If olives become too strong-tasting as they sit, drain brine and pour in olive oil to cover.
Yield: 1 gallon.
Note: Top layer of vegetables may turn black during curing, because of air exposure. (A little bit of air is necessary to cure olives safely, so just screw the top firmly shut and do not attempt to boil or vacuum-seal the jar as for canning.) Blackened parts should be discarded but remainder is fine to eat. If contents become moldy, discard them.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company