Whenever I make up a batch of quick pickles, I think about my grandmother, who had such a lush, amazing garden, and the food preservation skills to match. She had little in the way of finances, so she was always very frugal about using whatever was on hand so we could enjoy the tastes of her garden throughout the long, cold Minnesota winter months. I remember zucchini, squash, tomato salsas, even fruit pickling. If she grew it, she canned it.
When I grew up and became a chef, I never forgot the way my grandmother would make sure to use produce wisely so that there wasn't any waste, and of course, I never forgot her quick pickles.
Although many people think pickles need to be canned — a process involving a time-consuming water bath method or a pressure canner — it's very easy to create distinctive, delicious pickles through quick pickling. The method requires only a refrigerator, not a canning setup. You blend the ingredients together, put in a fridge, and you can eat them the next day.
While they only last for about a week, and not a whole winter in the cellar, quick pickles can be made in small batches, and you can also use the brine to "re-pickle" fresh vegetables. That means once you eat up whatever you've pickled originally, you just put new vegetables into the jar or bowl that has the briny juice, and those ingredients will pickle as well.
Pickling is an amazing process, because it adds such depth and flavor to any dish. Plus, pickles can be so unique to each cook. I love to add spice to my pickles with some chili peppers and lots of fresh garlic. Another trick I like is adding fresh ginger, which brings more depth of flavor and a bit of heat.
My favorite pickle variation is the mix we make for sandwiches, like the banh mi sandwich here at the Wedge. Ours has cucumber, carrots, garlic, ginger, daikon, rice vinegar, and cilantro. This is also the way we use up any vegetables we get from Gardens of Eagan. Sometimes, we even sneak in some fresh radishes, and those are always a great addition.
Now that summer abundance is almost fully upon us, quick pickling is an ideal way to use those vegetables from a CSA or the farmers market, and create a wonderful addition to summer cooking. I think my grandmother would approve!
Basic Quick Pickles
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 rounded tsp sugar
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T fresh dill
1 bay leaf
1 serrano pepper
4 kirby cucumbers (or radishes, turnips, etc.)
Toss the dill, bay leaf, chopped serrano, and sliced cucumbers together in a heatproof bowl or Mason jar.
Heat the vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, salt, and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to simmer and the sugar dissolves.
Pour the simmering liquid over the cucumber mixture and stir evenly to coat. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving, or better yet, chill overnight so the flavors can combine. Store in refrigerator for up to a week.
Taya Kaufenberg is Culinary Manager at the Wedge Co-op, overseeing the Wedge Deli and Catering businesses. She grew up in Minnesota, but her route to The Wedge includes ten years in the Coast Guard and years honing her culinary and management skills all over the country.