Pickling and fermenting are super popular these days, and for good reason. They're tasty, nutritious, and a fantastic way to extend or at even preserve your veggies.
Pickled foods have been preserved in a brine of salt or salty water, or an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. Fermented foods have been preserved and transformed by benign bacteria. Typically, this means that the sugars and carbohydrates present in the food have been eaten by the good bacteria, which then converts the sugar into other substances such as carbon dioxide, acids and alcohol. Those are the substance that preserve the food—and of course, add to its flavor.
Here’s where things get confusing. Sauerkraut comes from packing cabbage with salt and letting it ferment. Pickles are traditionally created by fermenting cucumbers in salty water. However, this recipe here uses vinegar, so these pickled veggies aren’t fermented.
That being said, you can pickle almost any veggie; my friend Jolene has even pickled chickpeas. (She's an Easton native; you may have noticed I wrote about her once before.) Some you might want to cook ahead of time, such as beets. Here’s a quick and easy way to do it. This recipe doubles and triples fairly easily. You’ll need wide-mouth pint jars, lids and rings, and should wash them in warm, soapy water ahead of time or run them through the dishwasher. Just make sure the components are dry to the touch when you’re ready to pack the jars.
The nice part about this recipe is that it's a small-batch affair; you'll need two pint jars, ideally the wide mouth type. But it's also a blank slate, insofar as you can think flavor palates and pair ingredients together that would make sense from a culinary perspective.
- 1 pound vegetables: think peppers, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, beets, or even summer squash
- 4-5 sprigs of fresh herbs of your choice such as dill, thyme, chives, tarragon or rosemary
- 1-2 T. whole spices (black peppercorns, mustard seeds coriander)
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed or sliced (optional)
- 1 cup vinegar (white, apple cider, or rice or a combination thereof)
- 1 cup water
- 1 T. kosher salt (Himalayan pink salt; it doesn't dissolve as well, FYI)
- 1 T. granulated sugar
Prep the veggies as needed. Beets will need to be boiled until tender and then cubed. Peel carrots and slice lengthwise, trim ends off the green beans, slice the cucumbers into spears or chips, cut peppers lengthwise or into coins, depending on the kind you're using and their size. You'll know what to do with them. Just make sure they aren't too large for your jar.
Lay out a clean kitchen towel on your countertop to catch the spills and keep things clean and place the clean jars, lids, and bands on it. Evenly divide the herbs, spices and/or garlic that you’re using into the jars. Then pack the veggies in there, leaving about a ½-inch headroom or so.
Bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar (if using) to a boil and stir until the ingredients dissolve. I like to transfer the brine to a Pyrex measuring cup so it's easier to pour the brine into the jars. Tap the jars on the counter to release any air bubbles. Add more brine if necessary. Note: You may not use all the brine, and that's ok. (And lots of people, myself included, have re-used brine from existing pickles!)
Tightly cap the jars with the lids and bands, and set aside to cool to room temperature. Once they jars have cooled, place them in the refrigerator. Store them there for up to two months. If you want to process them/can them in a water bath, they can then be stored at room temperature for much longer—typically up to a year. However, these are best if you wait 48 hours after making them before opening the jars; it allows the flavors to develop a bit. I know it's hard.
I've done combinations of carrots with thyme and ginger and cucumbers with mustard seeds, dill and garlic to great success. (In fact, if you attended my class at the Easton Public Market this past weekend, that's what you went home with.) I figure this is a quick and easy way to deal with gardening surpluses, farmers' market special promos, veggies from friends with gardens since I don't think I'll get mine in full swing this year, and so on. If I've got them on hand in the fridge at all times, it will be easy to get more veggies in during the day. And nothing spoils.