Chef Mike explains that pickled veggies are a summer essential
Tennyson famously said that in the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, but by summer, the impish pickle hath beguiled them all. Well, maybe I’m paraphrasing a bit, but what could be better on a hot summer day than the cool, crunch of a crisp pickled vegetable?
Sure, the warm wash of sunlight across your face as you come up from a dip in the lake is nice, and the soothing smell of charcoal caressing your senses while giggling children bounce happily across the grass with their bare feet is beautiful and all that. But summer just wouldn’t be summer without a Mason jar of pickled flora glistening in the sun like a heavenly kaleidoscope shining cherubic bursts of color and flavor to everything it touches.
Now, I’m not talking about those neon green slices of flaccid cucumber that have been lingering far too long in a hazy brine that’s typically used for cleaning copper, windows and lady parts. Those tiny bile bombs are only fit for ISIL and Guy Fieri, but I may be being a bit hard on ISIL.
I’m talking about the tangy goodness of carefully pickled fresh vegetables—a little sweet, a little tart, a little spicy and more than a little hard to resist eating with or putting on just about everything in sight (except ice cream. Sorry, pregnant women, that’s just gross).
Pickled vegetables have appeared on tables all over the world since the inhabitants of India began pickling cucumbers over 4,000 years ago. Whether it’s kimchi in Korea, achaar in India, torshi in Iran, tsukemono in Japan, do chua in Vietnam, giardiniera in Italy or kosher dills in the U.S., you can always find somebody pickling something and you should always eat it. Always.
Years ago, my grandmother would set aside at least one full day to make pickles. Her kitchen would be overrun with pans of boiling water and Mason jars while the pungent smells of dill and vinegar crept through the house on a mission to assault your nostrils. Even after all of that work, the pickles would still have to sit for at least a week in a cool, dark pantry before being declared ready to eat. The wait was excruciating.
Fortunately, for those of us that need a pickle fix without the pesky aggravations of patience and preparation, there is the miracle of quick pickling. If you need something pickled fast—say for dinner tonight—and you’re going to eat these pickles within a few days, there’s no need to turn the kitchen into a scene from “Breaking Bad.” Just whip up some quick pickles and forgo the science project rigmarole.
Quick pickling takes minutes, rather than days and requires no special equipment or knowledge. The basic recipe is to grab some fruit or vegetables and slice them thinly. Place them in a glass container or jar. Bring vinegar, sugar and some spices or herbs to a boil in a pot. Pour the hot mixture over the sliced fruit or vegetables. Cover and let it cool. It’s as easy as pie, if you could make pie by boiling water.
There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for quick pickles. You’ll want to adjust the brine according to what you’re pickling and your own preferences, but a good rule of thumb is three quarters of a cup of vinegar to two tablespoons of sugar and a pinch of salt, ensuring you have enough liquid to cover the vegetables.
You can eat them immediately, or stick them in the fridge for up to two weeks. The flavor will get more intense the longer they are in the fridge, but these aren’t shelf-stable pickles, so they have to stay cold, and won’t last much longer than a couple of weeks.
To get you started, here is my recipe for a sweet quick pickled veggie mix I use for pork sandwiches or in rich noodle soups such as pho.
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Thai chilies, stemmed and sliced lengthwise
- 2 carrots, thinly sliced
- 1 (1/2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
Bring vinegar, sugar, salt and chilies to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Let cool 10 minutes.
Place carrot, ginger and onion in a bowl or jar and add pickling liquid. Cover and chill at least 4 hours and up to 7 days.