As harvesting ramps up, quick pickling makes jeweled jars of summer's best produce
Quick pickles, also known as refrigerator pickles, tick all the culinary boxes for me. They are easy, flexible, customizable, scalable and delicious.
You don't need any specialized equipment or complicated technique to make quick pickles, and you can use different kinds of vinegar and an array of spices, fresh herbs and aromatics depending upon what you have and how adventurous you're feeling. And you can pickle so much more than cucumbers.
August is when gardens start getting a little too exuberant, and those who tend them feel oppressed by the amount of fresh vegetables accumulating on the kitchen counters. But the work of harvesting, watering and weeding continues, so there is little time or energy left to cook. This is where quick pickles come to the rescue.
There are few "rules" here. Just use fresh vegetables (so that your finished pickles remain crisp and crunchy) and stick to the basic proportions of equal parts vinegar and salted water. Typically, a little sugar is included, too. Then feel free to experiment with the details.
I can't be the only one with a pantry full of partially full bottles of different kinds of vinegar and rarely used spices. This was my chance to pull out the rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, chive blossom vinegar and white wine vinegar. You can even use cheap distilled white vinegar, though I find it a little harsh. The only no-go vinegar here would be balsamic. You can always buy premixed pickling spices
It's important to note that refrigerator pickles are not the same as canned pickles, so they must be kept in the fridge, or they will spoil. But once there, they can last up to eight weeks. They are a tasty addition to salads, sandwiches, nachos and charcuterie boards but are also great straight from the jar.
As for jars, you can use Mason jars, hinged-lid jars or any glass jar with a tightfitting lid. When canning, it's unsafe to reuse jars as the glass may be thinner and could crack with heat. And the hinge-lid jars can be tricky to get adequately sealed for safe canning. Both are fine for refrigerator pickles, however.
I worked with homegrown beets, onions, zucchini, carrots and green beans for these pickles. I don't know if I can take much credit for the pickled cucumbers since I used a major shortcut using the brine from some garlicky, refrigerated, store-bought pickles. I simply sliced a fresh cuke and dropped it into the container of reserved brine. Does it get any easier?
I also took the faster route with the beets, which can be roasted or boiled. Boiling takes much less time and doesn't involve turning on my oven in August. These are meant to be quick pickles, after all. Removing the skins was a breeze as I dunked the cooked beets into a bowl of ice water. The skins slip off easily in the cold water and cause much less of a mess. They got sliced and mixed with red onion, fresh tarragon, dried mustard and black peppercorns with apple cider vinegar.
The zucchini was a French heirloom called Rond de Nice, which is denser and less seedy than typical zucchini found at the store. The skin is very thin, so I didn't need to peel it. I just sliced it thinly and mixed it with equally thin slices of red onion. A traditional combination of fresh dill, sliced garlic and red pepper flakes was included, and then I added a few dashes of the Middle Eastern spice blend, Baharat. It usually contains black pepper, coriander seeds, cloves, chiles, paprika and cinnamon. It added a sweet, spicy, savory undercurrent to the vegetables, which swam in a brine made with chive blossom vinegar.
The carrots got an Asian spin with rice vinegar, fresh thyme, cilantro, grated ginger, whole coriander and turmeric. I grated the carrots with the slicing blade on the food processor, which saves time and effort versus using a box grater or julienning with a kitchen knife. And I gave them a good scrub but didn't peel them first. This is up to you, but I was streamlining wherever possible. This pickle was my favorite of the bunch.
The "green" beans were a mix of purple and green bush beans. I experimented with blanching to see if it helped hold the color. The purple disappeared during the quick bath in boiling water, and even the green ones looked similar to their raw counterparts once they'd been pickled for a few hours. Next time, I won't bother. This batch is where I used the pickling spice.
Other vegetables for the quick pickle treatment include radishes, sweet and hot peppers, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes. Choose one or more and be inspired to create your own customized batch.
• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at email@example.com.
1 pound of vegetables
1 cup vinegar of choice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Seasoning and aromatics of choice such as:
1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
A couple of sprigs of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme or dill
A teaspoon of dried spices like turmeric, mustard or red chili flakes
A couple of teaspoons of whole spices and seeds such as black peppercorns, celery seed, coriander or dill seeds
Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water, then allow to dry completely.
Wash and prep your vegetables.
Place desired flavoring ingredients into jars and fill with vegetables. Pack them in fairly tightly, but don't smoosh them. Leave ½ inch of space at the top of the jar.
Bring vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat and stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Simmer for a minute or so, then remove from heat.
Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then carefully pour into jars to cover the vegetables. Press down any vegetables that are above the surface of the brine using a chopstick or the back of a spoon. Seal lids and allow to cool on the counter for a couple of hours, then move to the refrigerator. Allow to chill for at least 12 hours, but ideally a couple of days before enjoying. They flavor gets better with time.
Makes 2 pints