Are you swimming in zucchini and other summer squashes right now? We are, and grateful for it; if not for squash and kale and basil, I wouldn’t have grown much of anything this season. But what to do with all that zucchini, once you’ve grilled it in thick slices and tossed it with pasta and made overly-sweet not-at-all-healthy zucchini bread and so on? Those plants keep producing, even the surprise volunteers that showed up in the potato towers and the compost pile. Well, you could pickle that.
What to do when the zucchini are threatening to take over.
The Quiet Farm household isn’t a huge fan of traditional cucumber dill pickles. I’ve tried them all the ways over the years – even traditional barrel fermentation, which meant that I once dumped five gallons of moldy, slimy cucumbers and their brine into our overwhelmed compost pile back at our old house in Denver – and it’s never been something that we’ve loved. (One of my sacrosanct rules of preserving: only make what you’ll actually eat.) Our altitude means that canned vegetables have to be processed much longer in a boiling water bath so pickles are almost always soggy; limp, overcooked cucumbers aren’t my thing. Also, even though I adore sharp, acidic flavors, standard vinegar pickles are sometimes just…too much.
A few minutes of work and you’ve got pickles.
Quick pickles, on the other hand, tick all the boxes. They’re crunchy, flavorful and still fresh-tasting, because they haven’t been processed. Because you don’t need to worry about safe pH levels for canning, the vinegar tang is a bit more mellow and you can add any spices or flavorings you’d like – make them super-spicy, or garlicky, or bright with fresh herbs. Also called refrigerator pickles, quick pickles are typically made in small batches with whatever vegetables you have on hand and need to use up, so you’re not committed to working your way through forty quarts of something you made but actually don’t like (looking at you, sauerkraut). Infinitely versatile, easy to make, delicious and fast – what’s not to love?
The pickles are brined at room temperature, but stored in the fridge.
A basic quick pickle recipe is more of a ratio: equal amounts of white vinegar and water, plus a little salt and sugar, brought just to a boil (enough to dissolve the salt and sugar) and poured over vegetables. The vegetables are left to sit at room temperature for an hour or more to marinate, then stored in clean jars in the refrigerator. That’s it, really. Water-heavy vegetables, like zucchini, will still maintain a little texture, while harder vegetables, like carrots and beets, will soften just enough. As long as the vegetables are stored covered in their brine they’ll keep in the fridge indefinitely, though hopefully you’re making small batches so you can replenish them as needed, making adjustments as you go.
Pickled red onions are delicious on flatbreads!
Quick pickles are a great way to use up vegetables that are maybe no longer at their best; as always, minimizing food waste is at the forefront of Quiet Farm’s goals. Those flaccid carrots in the back of the crisper drawer? The sorry-looking peppers? The sprouted onion in the pantry? You can pickle those, and you’ll be glad you did. Use your quick pickles on sandwiches, as a burger topping, on rice and grain bowls, or as a condiment with a selection of cheeses. The brine makes a gorgeous base for salad dressing, and the pickles themselves brighten the most basic bowl of greens. Tuck pickles into cheese toasties and elevate even this simplest of meals. Once you start making quick pickles, you’ll wonder where they’ve been all your life.
One of my favorite simple salads.
Another favorite quick pickle? Sliced cucumbers tossed in rice vinegar with scallions, sesame seeds and toasted sesame oil. When the cucumbers are coming on strong, this is a cool, refreshing salad and a perfect side dish to a spicy, vegetable-heavy stir-fry. Plus, it holds up in the fridge for a couple of days, so it’s ideal for packing in small containers in work lunches.
Who says salads are boring and flavorless?
Here’s a basic quick pickle recipe to get you started, but know that this is merely a guideline. I make ours aggressively spicy and loaded with garlic and use whatever fresh herbs I might have on hand; warm spices, like curry powder and coriander, are great here, too. Try carrots, beets, small turnips or radishes, if you have an abundance. Make this as written once, then devise your household’s own signature pickle.
In a medium pot, bring 1 1/2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar, 1/4 cup kosher salt, 1/4 cup sugar, 5 cloves crushed garlic, and 1 tbsp. black peppercorns to a boil. Wash and thinly slice about three medium zucchini and one red onion, plus a few jalapenos if desired. Place the vegetables in a large heatproof bowl and pour the hot brine over. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. Sterilize two quart jars with boiling water, then place the pickles into the clean jars. Cover and refrigerate, ensuring the vegetables are always submerged beneath the brine. Only use clean utensils – never your fingers! – to remove pickles from the jar. (Note: I like the flavor of brown sugar or honey better here, but the brine is much clearer and prettier, especially when red onion is used, with white sugar. Do as you see fit.)
Do you make pickles? How do you use them in your meals? Please share in the comments below!