Taste it, Don't Waste it! Refrigerator Pickles

Photograph by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

You Can Pickle That

Buying fresh produce can sometimes feel like a race against time. The organized cook makes a plan to use up the most fragile first—the lettuces and berries need to make it directly to the table, leafy greens can hang out for a day or two, sturdy roots give us a bit more breathing room. But even the best plan sometimes leaves us with a little more produce than time. Whether your CSA runneth over, you went a little crazy at the market or life just got in the way, it’s not uncommon to face a crisper drawer that is threatening to expire. In those moments—or when I am about to head out of town and haven’t fully eaten down the fridge or sometimes just because they’re so darned delicious, I turn my extra veg into quick pickles.

Quick pickles are like a magic time machine. The sharp vinegar bath retards spoilage on the spot, giving you as many as three extra weeks to enjoy delicious vegetables that you would’ve otherwise had to toss.

The list of produce that you can use is extensive, if not endless. Anything that’s a bit sturdy will do. Fragile items, such as green leafy vegetables—chard, collards, kale— are not my favorite, but their stems do quite well. Many root vegetables, such as beets, turnips, carrots and all of the radishes make excellent pickles. Sturdy cabbages are classic. Green beans and asparagus are pretty. Summer favorites like sweet peppers and fiery chilis, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squashes love the brine. Lilies such as onions, garlic, shallots and leeks treated this way make excellent accouterments for sandwiches and cheese platters. Pickled cauliflower will surprise you.

The ingredients for making quick pickles are so simple they are probably already in your pantry. Just vinegar, water, a bit of salt and maybe a pinch of sugar are all you need for a basic brine. But you don’t have to stop there. Wine and cider vinegars, spices and flavorings can be swapped in to create a whole range of pickle flavors.

Unlike shelf-stable pickles that need to follow a precise formula to be wholesome, quick pickles rely on the chill of the refrigerator rather than exact chemistry to keep them fresh. So you can feel free to experiment with your recipe to create endless variations on a theme.

The following is a master recipe for making refrigerator pickles, as well as a few ideas for changing it up.

Basic Refrigerator Pickles

Makes 1 quart

So easy, so delicious. Follow this simple formula or vary it with flavored vinegars and spices to make a pickle that is all your own. If you have canning jars, now would be a great time to use them—they’re very good at taking on hot liquids without cracking. Otherwise, be sure to use a heat-proof bowl to contain your hot brine.

Assorted vegetables prepped as follows: cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into 1/4” coins or spears; root vegetables peeled and cut into 1/4” coins; cabbage and onions cut into 2” pieces; chilis left whole but pierced with a knife or cut into rings or strips; garlic peeled and separated into cloves; cauliflower separated into florets; asparagus and green beans trimmed.

1 1/2 cups white distilled vinegar

1 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon kosher salt

a pinch of sugar

spices, if using

In a 2-quart saucepan bring all ingredients to a boil. Stir for one minute to dissolve the sugar and salt. Then combine your brine and vegetables using one of the following methods:

Cold pack: Delicate vegetables such as cabbage leaves, cucumbers and summer squash can be packed into the jars raw and then doused with brine—just pour it right into the jar. The heat of the hot liquid is sufficient to soften them. This is also the method you want to use for spicy chilis to keep all of that fire in the jar.

Hot pack: Crunchier specimens, such as your root vegetables, cauliflower, asparagus and green beans need a little softening. To take the edge off of their raw bite without turning them to mush, give them a quick blanch right in the brine pot. Just toss them into the boiling vinegar mixture, simmer for one minute and allow to cool in the liquid. Then transfer to your jars, cover and refrigerate.

Whichever method you use to pack your jars, it’s important to keep the food matter completely submerged under the brine during storage as anything exposed to air will deteriorate quickly. Fully submerged veg will keep, refrigerated, for up to three weeks.

Variations

Pub Favorite: 1 cup white distilled vinegar, 1/2 cup malt vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon celery seeds, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds.

Spicy Thai: 3/4 cup white distilled vinegar, 3/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 sliced thai chili or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes.

Sesame: 3/4 cup white distilled vinegar, 3/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 1/2 cup water, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil.

Caraway and Dill: 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, 1 teaspoon dill seeds.

Red Wine Peppercorn: 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns.