How to Make Quick Pickles to Prevent Food Waste
We've all done it. You go to the grocery store, armed with a plan and a shopping list. You feel confident, prepared. You pick up a head of broccoli for tonight's pasta. But, the cauliflower also looks beautiful! May as well pick up a head of that too. Oh, and asparagus is on sale! Can't hurt to grab some. Wait, and do you have cucumbers at home for tonight's salad?
A week and a half later, you realize that you did it again. You have too much produce and it's all 48 hours away from going bad. What's a good home cook to do? Break out the pickling supplies.
Pickling is Practical
In the United States, it's estimated that we waste 30 to 40 percent of our food, a mind-boggling amount. But, especially for food lovers, it's easy to get carried away at the grocery store. We've all wasted food before and will probably do it again.
Pickling may feel like the realm of fussy chefs and pioneer women, but it's actually a genius, time-tested way to buy yourself more time with the produce that you've got lying around. Quick pickling in particular is versatile, practical, and takes as much hands-on time as making yourself a cup of coffee.
Pickling is Easy
What is the difference between quick pickling and pickling? Whereas pickling harnesses fermentation over the course of a few days, making quick pickles (sometimes called refrigerator pickles) takes about twenty minutes if you're really taking your time. True pickling keeps veggies viable for months and months, but quick pickling just buys you more time with a few extra weeks of being good to eat.
To quick pickle, prepare your veggies by washing and (if desired) slicing them, make a brine, heat the brine, and pour it over the veggies. They're better after sitting in your fridge for a few days, but can be eaten basically right away.
You Can Pickle Just About Anything
That said, you can really use whatever's in your fridge: radishes, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, garlic, cabbage, broccoli, or cherry tomatoes. Experiment away! Especially if your produce is about to go bad, what have you got to lose if your pickled veggies aren't perfect?
Along those lines, don't be afraid to quick pickle fruit. Pickled apples can make a great addition to a grilled cheese with cheddar and pickled cherries are lovely with duck breast or atop a salad with goat cheese. Pickled peaches are an old southern favorite too.
Simple, Versatile Ingredients
Your pickling supplies are simple pantry staples — equal parts vinegar and water, plus salt, spices, and some sugar if you'd like. You can buy "pickling salt," which will keep your brine crystal clear, but it's not necessary.
Simple vinegar is preferred over the fancier stuff. You can use white vinegar, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, etc. The only type of vinegar you really don't want to use is something aged like balsamic.
Everything beyond the water, vinegar, and salt is up to you. A bit of sugar will balance the flavors and you don't have to stick to table sugar — add some honey or maple syrup instead for more depth.
Plan your Pickles
Before you start, spend a moment thinking what you'd like your pickles served with. Rice bowls? Tacos? Sandwiches? Add spice from there, if you want to be able to eat your quick pickles with just about anything, simply throw in some fresh garlic cloves and black pepper. If you eat a lot of Mexican food, toss in some cumin, garlic, and a dried chili.
Any fresh (or just-past-fresh) herbs in your fridge can go in as well. If you're quick pickling fruit, add some vanilla bean and go a bit heavier on the sugar.
A few recommended flavor combinations:
- Green beans with garlic, dill, and mustard seed.
- Beets with black pepper, clove, and a cinnamon stick
- Apples with rosemary and black pepper
- Red onions with red pepper flakes
- Cabbage with mustard seed and caraway seed
- Watermelon with sprigs of fresh mint
- 1 pound vegetables, washed, dried, and chopped as desired
- 1 cup vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or honey, maple syrup, agave nectar)
- 1-2 sprigs fresh herbs
- 1-2 garlic cloves, sliced or smashed
- 1-2 teaspoons spices (such as cumin, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, cloves)
- Prepare a clean, wide mouth quart jar or two wide mouth pint jars. Add any spices, herbs, or garlic desired.
- Pack the vegetables into the jar. There should be at least ½ an inch of room in between the vegetables and the rim.
- In a saucepan, bring the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar (if using) to a boil over high heat. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar.
- Pour the hot brine over the vegetables until it comes up to about a ½ inch below the top. Stir gently with a clean knife to remove any air bubbles. Top off with more brine if necessary.
- Place the lid on your jar and let it come to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator until ready to eat.