We’ve all felt the guilt. Think back to one week ago, when you were walking around the farmer’s market buying all sorts of just-in-season vegetables, thinking how this was going to be the start of you eating healthy. But that was a week ago. The beets and turnips are still sitting in the fridge, and you’ve got plans tonight, so they’ll be one step closer to the compost heap by morning. If you’re the thrift-savvy Brooklynite we know you are, you’re looking for a way to stretch your vegetables’ life span, so here’s your answer: pickling.
Pickling is a deceptively easy process. Sure, if you want to get way into it and have a pantry full of pickles from 2012 (“a good year”), there will be boiling jars, cleaning pickles, and boiling pickles in jars, so that you get a tight seal; but if you just want to have your vegetable supply around for a few weeks longer, then all you need is an acid and whatever else you’d like for it to taste like.
There are many reasons to give this often-misunderstood mode of preservation a try: obviously, the first being that it will grant your food the vegetable equivalent of immortality, making them last up to three times as long as they would regularly hang around. Beyond the lifespan, however, pickling is also a great way to infuse attention-grabbing, tangy flavor to just about anything you’ve got sitting in the fridge, and as an added bonus a lot of the nutritional value of the subject is maintained throughout pickling.
You can pickle just about anything. Besides cukes, you may have tried the occasional pickled shallot (perfect on sandwiches) or pickled carrot (secret ingredient in all good Asian cuisine). Some of my favorites include watermelon rinds, peaches, okra, tomatoes, and grapes. Pickled items can be served as sides, used to add acidity to any fatty barbecue, or even counter-balance something overly sweet in dessert.
To pickle, you’ll first need any acid, usually vinegar (citrus juices work sometimes too, but check larger recipe databases like here to find specific formulas) and some spices, usually left whole in cases like coriander seeds and black pepper. You can also put in chilis, sugar, parsley stems, really just about anything you’d like to taste, keeping in mind that while leafy herbs taste nice, they break down quickly in acid.
The next part is the real trick, as some recipes will tell you to bring your vinegar to a boil before adding, while others will tell you to simply toss it all in any container. The key is knowing that first off, boiling your brine (vinegar mixture) will help all the flavors meld better, and that if you add in your pickling subject while the brine is hot, your pickle will be briefly cooked, and you risk losing some of the crunch.
All this means that if you need pickled carrots in a hurry, boiling your brine and adding your carrots and letting the two cool together would probably be the way to go, giving you tangy pickled carrots in under an hour, but if you have all week, boil your brine then let it cool before adding anything. Another pickling pro tip: it’s never too late to customize your liquid either, so if you try your pickled watermelon rind a week in and decide it could use some spice, just pop a jalapeno in there.
Be warned, though, it’s a dangerous road to go down. Sure, at first you’re just making your own dill pickles every now and then, but then you’ll get bored, start wondering what else can you pickle?! Before long you’ll have a fridge filled with cured sea snails, treated chicken feet, and pickled apples, which will take your martini garnishes to some very dark places.