This Speedy Technique Brings Sad Winter Vegetables Back From the Brink
This is the time of year when sad carrots and wrinkly green beans sit limply on grocery store shelves. While roasting is one method to make them shine, I'm always looking for creative ways to brighten up the vegetables in my life. So, when winter arrives, I dig into my pantry to pull out glass jars and whole peppercorns for quick pickling.
Quick pickling is the antidote to feeling uninspired after you've been looking at the same onions, radishes, and hot house cucumbers on your weekly shopping trips. Also called refrigerator pickles, the technique infuses new life into vegetables with minimum effort and perhaps, more importantly, fewer items to wash. Whereas canning is designed for long-term, shelf-stable storage, quick pickling creates side dishes and garnishes that are ready in as little as 30 minutes and should be continually refrigerated and eaten within a week.
Everything you need for quick pickling
- Oxo Good Grips Bottle Brush, $7 at amazon.com
- Kuhn Rokon Original Swiss Peeler, 3-Pack, $20 at amazon.com
- KitchenAid All-Purpose Shears, $9 (originally $11) at amazon.com
- 8-inch Misen Chef Knife, $53 with coupon (originally $75) at amazon.com
- Pyrex Glass Measuring Cup Set, 3-Pack, $18 (originally $23) at amazon.com
- Ball 16-ounce Wide Mouth Mason Jars, 12-Pack, $11 at target.com
- Collapsible Kitchen Canning Funnel, $7 (originally $8) at amazon.com
- ScotchBlue Painter's Tape, $9 (originally $12) at amazon.com
- Sharpie Permanent Markers, 2-Pack, $2 (originally $3) at amazon.com
Now, let's talk about the steps—rinsing and chopping vegetables, creating the brine, and combining everything in a lidded jar—as well as how to add bold flavors to sad winter vegetables.
How to prep your vegetables for quick pickling
You can quick pickle a host of vegetables, including carrots, radishes, jalapeño peppers, beets, cucumbers, green beans, or cauliflower. Give your chosen vegetables a quick rinse and pat dry with a towel before you get to trimming off the ends or peeling off skin. This is also a good time to give the lidded jar you're planning to use a quick wash, too. Here's where a bottle brush, like this $7 Oxo Good Grips Bottle Brush, will come in handy for scrubbing out the insides of tall glass containers.
When it comes to chopping or slicing, think about how you'll be using your pickled veggies. Thin slices, like discs of carrots, radishes, or jalapeños, are great as sandwich filler or in a bowl with rice and eggs, while ginger or daikon matchsticks add a bit of texture to stir-fry or noodle dishes. Thicker sticks, typically carrots or cucumbers, can add crunch to a tuna sandwich or a bit of variety to your charcuterie plate. An 8-inch Misen Chef Knife is comfortable if you're doing lots of chopping and can handle all of your vegetable prep for quick pickling.
Developing a pickle brine
A brine, salted water or vinegar, is how you turn raw vegetables into pickles. The longer your vegetables sit in a brine, the deeper the flavor you build. Keep in mind that sugar and vinegar are like the cool kids in school and will have an outside influence on your vegetables. Find ways to balance out those strong notes by taming vinegar with water and sugar with salt or heat.
Quick pickling is often an exercise in what you have on hand. Start by heating and stirring together 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of vinegar (apple cider or white vinegar are good options), 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Then, tweak that base combination with the spices you have on hand and what you prefer. You can also make a quick pickle brine without turning on the stove, but heat will meld ingredients together faster without adding a lot of time to the process.
If you're looking for inspiration, try these winey-briny quick pickles alongside sharp cheese or add a little heat to your hot dogs with spicy dill quick pickles. And Chef David Chang's Superfast Salt-and-Sugar Pickles forgoes the brine and preserves the crunch of radishes, daikon, and watermelon with a quick toss of fine sea salt and sugar.)
Pro tip: Unsure about how much brine you need? Fill the container you're going to use with water. Pour out that water into a Pyrex Glass Measuring Cup and now you know.
When you're filling the jar
You'll want to pack the veggies into a 16-ounce Ball Wide Mouth Mason Jar as tightly as possible, as this keeps them from floating to the top. A glass container with an airtight seal works well, too. If you have enough containers, consider putting a single kind of vegetable in each jar since they can pickle at varying speeds. Thinly sliced onions don't need as long as chunky carrot sticks. Vegetables like beets also leech color, which can be fun as long as you're expecting everything to turn pink. After the veggies are in the jar, place a Kitchen Canning Collapsible Funnel on top to avoid splashing and have more control over the amount of liquid you're adding.