Food

How to quick-pickle everything and brighten up your winter meals

From beets to leeks, turn all of your cold-weather produce into a pickle and no one will complain.

From beets to leeks, turn all of your cold-weather produce into a pickle and no one will complain

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

I'm writing this from the West Coast of Canada right now, where I'm shopping for dinner in these coastal towns in my gumboots. The produce aisles are looking particularly bleak here this month, and I imagine wherever you are in the country, things probably look quite the same. The carrots make mimicry of their in-season selves, and other things, like the wax-coated turnips, sit sad and lifeless. 

To make it through this last leg of winter, I suggest you start quick-pickling everything. I like to think of quick pickles as much needed winter accessories, but for our meals. Give all of this less-than-perfect produce a short bath in a sweet-and-sour brine, watch them liven up, and bring bright bursts of flavour to your salads, sandwiches, and roasts. Use them to dress up hummus and grain bowls, or as a vegetable side that no one will complain about, like the sweet and vinegary cucumber slices my grandma used to make for us as kids.

Quick pickles are easy and they're ready in 15-30 minutes, or they can be made a day or two before for parties if you're trying to get ahead like that. The process is simple: you shake up vinegar and water together with a little sugar and a pinch of salt in a glass jar with a tight lid, and then add your cut up vegetables.

If you're adding extra flavourings like orange peel or spices (which you absolutely should), you should heat up the brine first so they'll better infuse. Boiling the brine is also a good idea when you're adding more sugar than just a teaspoon or two, because it dissolves better when warmed. The process then is to pour the boiled brine over the veggies, and serve them once they've cooled down. I throw them in the fridge or freezer (just don't forget about them) to get this job done faster.

Let's go over a few more tips that'll help you with the process. And then we'll get to a dozen quick pickle ideas for you to try. Looking for more? We've got detailed recipes on our site that use quick pickles. Let those spark your imagination to help you set out on your own. 

Preparing the vegetables

The thinner you cut the vegetables, the quicker they'll absorb the brine. Brush up on your knife skills with a few YouTube lessons on cutting produce into matchsticks or batons. Or use a mandoline to slice them paper thin. 

You'll get crunchier pickles if you salt the cut vegetables first to draw out excess moisture. Sprinkle watery cucumbers and eggplant with salt and let them sit in a colander for about 15 minutes to drain, then rinse them under cold water and pat them dry with a clean tea towel before submerging them in any brine. 

Making the brine

The basics of quick pickling goes something like this; heat up vinegar mixed with water, either equal parts or an variation on that depending on how acidic you like the brine. Then add enough sweetener to balance the taste — sugar, honey, maple syrup, or agave syrup will all do the trick. 

Once you gain confidence, you can start adding flavouring to the vinegar and water solution. Try strips of lemon zest sliced very thin, or chili pepper flakes and herbs — either fresh or dried. If you are using fresh, opt for hardier herbs like rosemary and oregano that release stronger flavour oils. 

Experiment with different vinegars to get the taste you like. Rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar all make delicious pickles. Or try a combo of a couple and tailor it to your tastes.

Tips

  • Keep in mind the longer they sit, the softer quick pickles become, so enjoy them sooner if you prefer them crunchy. 
  • Quick pickles won't last as long as pickles that have gone through a proper canning process. Be sure to refrigerator them and use them up within two weeks. 
  • Always brine and store your quick pickles in a non-reactive container, like a glass one.

With these tips in mind, let's go over 12 flavour ideas so you can start experimenting. Remember to add a pinch of salt and a small spoonful of sweetener to each of the brines below, along with an equal amount of water to vinegar ratio, or to taste. 

You'll see that the recipe ideas below all have flavourings added. I suggest you boil the brine first to better release their flavour. So cut the vegetables as instructed below, throw the brine ingredients in a pot to heat, and pour the hot brine over the vegetables. Let cool and enjoy.

Quick pickle recipe ideas

Fennel thinly sliced + white wine vinegar + lightly crushed fennel seeds + star anise + orange zest removed in large strips with a vegetable peeler.

Cucumber rounds or half moons + rice wine vinegar + hot chili flakes. 

Leeks sliced into thin rounds + white wine vinegar + fresh rosemary.

Turnips cut into batons + white wine vinegar + bay leaf + smashed whole garlic cloves.

Carrots thinly sliced into rounds + white vinegar + smashed whole garlic cloves + meyer lemon zest or the zest from regular lemons.

Grilled okra + red wine vinegar + whole coriander seeds + bay leaves + hot pepper flakes. 

Kale and swiss chard stems diced + apple cider vinegar + whole all-spice berries + a cinnamon stick.

Carrots and daikon radish cut into matchsticks + rice vinegar + extra sugar (up to half of the vinegar, if desired, to make these really sweet and sour). 

Jalapeñossliced into rounds and seeds removed + white vinegar + bay leaves + juniper berries + extra sweetener to taste.

Eggplant + white vinegar + whole smashed garlic cloves + red chili flakes + fresh oregano.

Red onions sliced into thin rounds + white wine vinegar + whole cloves + star anise + cinnamon stick + raisins. 

Beets halved and sliced thin + apple cider vinegar + whole cloves.

Find even more recipe ideas for quick pickles on our site: 

Spiced Lamb Flatbreads with Homemade Cabbage Pickle

(Credit: Steve Ryan)

Quinoa Bowl with Pickled Vegetables, Edamame and Tofu Balls

Sarosh's Chicken Jalfrezi Pita Pockets with Quick-Pickled Onions

(Photography by Gabriel Cabrera)

Epic Game Night Nachos

Kale Cobb Salad


Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.

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