Pickling Basics: Easiest Refrigerator Pickles

We love pickles, and we especially love the variety of flavors and vegetables being used to make them these days. But we've tended to shy away from making them at home, thinking that pickling requires pounds of vegetables, special equipment, and an entire free weekend. Recently, we learned there's another way...

Enter refrigerator pickling! These pickles aren't intended for long-term storage, but rather for casual eating over the course of a week or so. They're incredibly easy to make, even on a weeknight, and are a novel way to use up the odd carrot or quarter-head of cabbage left in the drawer.

First, clean and prepare all your vegetables. If it's a vegetable you like to eat raw, you can leave them as is. If not, you can blanch them in boiling water, steam them lightly, or roast them beforehand. You want them edible but still a bit crunchy.

Pack all the vegetables tightly into jars - you can use old canning jars or any other heat-proof container with an air-tight lid. You can also combine more than one vegetable in the same jar if you don't have quite enough of one. Just make sure the combined vegetables actually "go" together because they'll take on a bit of each other's flavors.

We like to use a basic pickling brine (below) and then riff on the spices or use different vinegars depending on what we're in the mood for. Bring all the brine ingredients to a boil in a small pan and then pour the brine over the vegetables. Put the lids on the containers, cool them to room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating to give the flavors time to meld.

Refrigerator pickles will keep for about a month. If they develop any off flavors or smells, or if you notice fermentation, it's best to just discard the remaining pickles. Some kinds of fermentation are ok (like with kimchi), but we'll save that discussion for another time.

Many of these pickles are great as a snack right out the jar while standing at the counter! We also layer them on sandwiches, toss them in salads, or serve them as part of an appetizer plate.

Basic Pickling Brine

For every pound of vegetable:

1 cup vinegar (any kind except balsamic)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
Extras: fresh herbs, red pepper flakes, mustard seed, cumin seed, pepper corns, cloves of garlic, or any other pickling spice

Other Pickling Recipes to Try:

Beet Pickles from Alton Brown
Quick Radish Pickles from Gourmet
Firecracker Carrots from Alton Brown
Pickled Zucchini Ribbons from Martha Stewart
Sweet Dill Refrigerator Pickles from Epicurious

What's your favorite kind of pickled vegetable?

Related: Book Review: Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It by Karen Solomon

(Image: Flickr member The Bitten Word licensed under Creative Commons)

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