It is that time of year again — zucchini is coming in massively. Last week I had a surplus of baby green and yellow summer squash. Noticing that they resembled cucumbers, I wondered how my little zucchini would taste if cut into spears and brined with some vinegar, garlic, and dill. The experiment was a success and I served my pickled zucchini with grilled hot dogs and hamburgers over the weekend. I got so excited about the possibilities that I went to the Variety Store and invested in a 12-pack of 1-quart Ball jars. I can’t wait to see what’s left in the crisper at the end of this week.
Making “real” pickles like the ones you can buy at Horman’s at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, involves a process that preserves the vegetables so they are shelf-stable for a year or longer. The vegetables are packed into special tempered glass jars with vacuum seals, along with a pickling solution of water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices. The jars themselves are then boiled. If you don’t seal and heat the jars properly, you risk poisoning friends and family with the toxin that causes botulism. And then there’s the matter of grabbing the jars from the boiling water. Even if you buy those special rubber-coated tongs, the jars are still extremely slippery when wet. The whole process sounds dangerous enough that I’m happy to leave it to the professionals.
Refrigerator pickles, in contrast, present fewer risks. To make refrigerator pickles, you pack your vegetables into jars, pour hot pickling brine over them, and then let them absorb the flavors of the brine in the refrigerator. After a day they will be flavorful but still delightfully crunchy, just the way I like them. They don’t last as long as real pickles, it’s true. But there’s no worry about food poisoning because they are stored at a safe, cold temperature from the get go. Neither do the jars have to be grabbed out of a pot of boiling water. So that’s a fair trade-off, I think.
You can pickle almost any vegetable you have on hand. You can also vary the brine to suit your vegetables and your taste. Here are a few suggestions:
Green Beans or Snap Peas: Add a half of a lemon, sliced, and a teaspoon of black peppercorns. Leave out the chili peppers.
Carrots: Leave out the dill. Replace the mustard seeds and coriander seeds with 1 teaspoon cumin seeds. Add 2 tablespoons peeled and sliced fresh ginger.
Radishes: Use cilantro instead of dill and skip the mustard seeds.
Jalapenos: It’s easy to pickle your own jalapenos. Skip the dill. Replace the garlic with a few peeled and halved shallots, skip the chili peppers, and add a teaspoon of cumin seeds if you’d like.
Cauliflower: Skip the dill and throw some fennel seeds and fronds from a fresh fennel bulb if you have them into the jar.
Green Tomatoes: Pickle small green tomatoes with sprigs of rosemary instead of dill. Replace the coriander with black peppercorns. Throw in some extra garlic cloves if you’d like.
Cucumber: To make spicy cucumber pickles, add ¼ cup sriracha to the brine after boiling and omit the dill, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and garlic cloves.
And then there are okra, mushrooms, beets, baby bok choy. After I come home from the farm stand I may have to make another trip to the Variety Store.
As for serving your pickled vegetables, there are many options. Make pickled cauliflower and tomatoes part of an antipasto platter. Use snap peas in a summer salad along with butter lettuce and crumbled goat cheese. Pickled carrots, along with some chopped black olives, are good in couscous. Chopped pickled radishes are delicious in a tuna salad. Pickled jalapenos add heat to nachos and tacos. Or pat them dry, coat them in cornstarch and then in egg white, and deep fry. Spicy cucumber pickles are a bracing addition to a bowl of cold sesame noodles.
Zucchini-Dill Refrigerator Pickles
Makes 1 quart pickles
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
12 fresh dill sprigs
1 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
4 garlic cloves
4 or 5 small red chili peppers, split lengthwise
1 pound baby zucchini, quartered lengthwise
1. Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Transfer to a large measuring cup.
2. Arrange zucchini in a 1-quart glass jar along with dill, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, garlic, and chilis. Pour hot pickling liquid into jar. Seal and refrigerate for at least 1 day and up to 1 week before serving.