I’ve been making sauerkraut and kim chi for years, but haven’t really been that interested in making my own pickles. There is no good reason for this oversight and now that I’ve made some I feel silly because I should have been doing this for YEARS!
A few things happened to expedite this pickle exploration. First, Coronoavirus quarantine. I have more time on my hands and almost zero demands on my schedule. The extra free time is helpful for me, as I tend towards introverted anyway.
Second, I had an influx of vegetables beyond my usual weekly purchases. First, I got about a dozen cucumbers from a friend. Simultaneously, I partnered with another friend’s Oahu-based vegetable delivery company to create cooking videos! Last week our featured vegetable was daikon. We got two massive daikon roots, so I knew that I needed to make the most of these veggies by turning both the daikon and the cucumbers into pickles.
Making homemade pickles is easy and quickly rewarding: they are ready the same day – although best after about 48 hours. You can play with the flavors via herbs and spices, and make them spicy, sweet, or keep them sour. I experimented with a few flavors based on what I had on hand, and I’m very happy with the results – and will definitely be making more this week!
Quick & Easy Homemade Pickle Recipe
This is less of a traditional recipe, as you can make as large or small a batch as you’d like and there are no very specific amounts. I’ll share my best tips and ingredient information first, then the process below that.
For the Vegetables:
Choose crunchy veggies that would withstand a few days in vinegar: radish, turnip, cauliflower, broccoli stems, carrot, zucchini, onion, garlic, and other ‘sturdy’ vegetables. Wash all veggies well with soap and water before prepping. Trim off any damaged spots and the ends of the veggies; there is no need to peel your veggies. Stay away from leafy greens, mushrooms, and other soft veggies. A quick Google search shows me there are definitely options for fermented greens, but that doesn’t sound that yummy to me.
For the Herbs & Spices:
Nearly anything goes here: chopped garlic, ginger, turmeric, whole coriander seeds (seen in the first picture above), chili peppers (fresh or dried, flakes or whole), mustard seeds (my favorite ingredient in my homemade kraut), star anise, fennel seeds, dill seeds, dried dill, dried basil, and peppercorns. Play with what you have and which flavors you like. Some good suggestions would be dill seeds and garlic for cucumber pickles, mustard seed for cauliflower pickles, and star anise + fennel seeds for carrot pickles for a sweeter, licorice-scented bite.
For the Vinegar:
White vinegar is the cheapest option here (I choose Whole Foods organic white vinegar, which I always have on hand for homemade cleaning products and for using in my laundry). Apple cider vinegar also works but can be more expensive and has a slightly sweeter, more mild flavor.
Use fine ground, high-quality sea salt without iodine, or Himalayan salt. For the sugar, I used some brown sugar I had on hand, which made my final pickles a bit darker in color. Choose a light colored sugar if you can, but whatever you have on hand should be fine. Most pickle recipes call for huge amounts of sugar (oftentimes equal to the amount of vinegar): you simply do not need that much sugar in your life. If you are accustomed to very sweet pickles, add a bit more sugar to start, then slowly wean yourself off the super-sweet pickles and onto those that are more pungent and robust.
A note about Jars:
Just like for fermentation, it can’t hurt to ensure sterility of your glass jars. See my article here about proper sanitizing of jars for fermentation and pickling. At the very least, wash the jars very well, then fill to the brim with boiling water (slowly, carefully) and pour out (slowly, carefully) just before using.
How to Make Homemade Pickles
Jars, as needed
Prepped & chopped veggies of choice
1-2 teaspoons of herbs & spices of choice
1 cup White vinegar
1 cup Distilled or spring water
1 Tablespoon sugar of choice
1 teaspoon of salt
- Wash and prepare the veggies: slice into rounds or sticks, cubes or half moons – whatever shape you like!
- Pack the veggies into the sterilized jar(s) and add in 1-2 teaspoons of herbs of choice
- To a saucepan, add vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Bring to a low boil, then remove from heat.
- Pour vinegar mixture into jars until vegetables are submerged.
- Cover, and let cool to room temperature.
- Move to refrigerator, and let rest for 24-48 hours (if you are very patient!).
- Remove pickles from jar with a clean fork. To use: chop up pickles and use in salads, as a side dish, mixed into grain dishes, served on sandwiches, and so much more.
That’s it! Once you get the technique down, you can experiment with a huge range of veggies and spices to make an array of flavors.
Final note about food waste:
Pickling is a great way to store veggies for longer, which is especially important for veggies like cucumbers and zucchini that don’t last as long. However, this recipe is for quick pickles, which means they are not shelf-stable – they need to be stored in the refrigerator.
Finally, as each of these pickle experiments used a lot of brine, I had to make sure it was okay to reuse the brine so that less goes to waste. One of my favorite ferment-friendly bloggers says to be sure to reuse brine only for these types of quick (fridge) pickles, and only if it still looks clear. She says to use only about three times for best results. You can also use brine in marinades for tempeh, tofu, or veggies, or use them as a based for really flavorful salad dressings. This makes the most of the vinegar and the infused flavor.