I do like my pickles, but I am a lazy preserver. My solution is a speedy fix that omits the bother of canning: I make quick pickles. Quick-pickling is for impatient types like me, with (nearly) instantly gratifying results.
No time is better for pickling than summer, which yields more vegetables than you can shake a stick at. The gardens are bursting with ripe produce, as are the farmers markets. Once you’ve munched through your garden and shopping basket, cooked, roasted and steamed your pickings, and tossed your harvests into salads, the question of what to do with the ever-replenishing mountain of veggies presents itself — not unlike a large, leafy, green elephant in the room.
This is the moment to quick-pickle. Quick-pickling differs from canning and jarring in that it is a short-term method that involves marinating the vegetables in a sugar-and-vinegar brine. (Canning is more technical, involving a process that allows the food to remain safely edible for lengthy periods of time.) Anything that is quick-pickled should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within two weeks. For pickle pigs, like myself, this is not a deterrent.
All sorts of vegetables enjoy a pickle; just be sure to use the freshest produce available. You can brine a variety together or individually. Crisp vegetables are great contenders, such as cauliflower, carrots, turnips, beans, beets, pickling cucumbers, fennel and cabbage. The advantage of quick-pickling is that the vegetables will keep their crunch, which is essential to a good pickle.
The brine is equally essential to the pickle. Here you can have a little fun with aromatics and spices, depending on what you are pickling. A brine is traditionally an equal ratio of vinegar to water, plus sugar and salt. You can adjust the sugar to your taste, but avoid leaning too sweet, or the brine will be too saccharine. The vinegar can be a white vinegar, red wine or rice wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. Avoid syrupy aged vinegars such as balsamic. Tweak the aromatics using whole seeds, such as mustard, coriander, fennel and peppercorns. Fresh and dried herbs are also important; sprigs of dill, rosemary, thyme and oregano add flavor and nuance.
Once jarred, the pickles can live in your refrigerator for up to two weeks. The longer they sit in the brine, the stronger their flavor.
Quick Summer Pickles
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes plus cooling time
Yield: Makes 1 to 1 1/2 quarts
2 pounds fresh vegetables
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar or white vinegar
3 Tbsp. kosher salt
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. black peppercorns
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
Thoroughly wash and dry heatproof glass jars with wide lids.
Wash and trim the vegetables as needed.
If using fresh herb sprigs, place inside the jars. Tightly pack the vegetables into the jars with the sprigs.
Combine the brine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour the brine over the vegetables, leaving about 1/2 inch clear at the top. Cover the jars and cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 2 weeks. The flavors will develop with time.
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of “Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture” (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106; or send email to email@example.com; or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.
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