This 10-Minute Technique Means You’ll Never Waste Vegetables Again

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Do you have a rice bowl or a taco dinner in need of a little extra something-something? Or perhaps you are staring food waste in the face, with a lingering carrot, half an onion, or two radishes that have been hanging out in the crisper for a smidge too long, and you want to send them on to a better life.

Here’s your answer to both of these cooking challenges: the 10-minute magic of the ultra-quick pickle.

Why Should You Know How to Make Quick Pickles

In as little as 10 minutes, a mixture of three pantry staples plus water will transform about one cup of raw veggies — like carrots, radishes, cabbage, or onions — into a tangier, more exciting version of themselves.

I was first clued into quick-pickled vegetables a few years ago, when making a recipe that included quick-pickled red cabbage as a garnish. Since then, this 10-minute technique has been a total game-changer.

Here are three reasons quick-pickled vegetables make dinner better.

1. Quick-pickling is an enormous pay-off for your time.

This technique gives you a huge bang for your buck. In fact, I can’t think of many other things you can make in just 10 minutes that deliver in the flavor department quite like quick-pickled vegetables. Oh, and as for those 10 minutes? Most of it is hands-off time while you’re waiting for the veggies to do their thing in the pickling liquid. Use that time to prep the rest of dinner or tomorrow’s lunch, wash the dishes, or kick back and open a book for a few minutes.

2. Quick-pickling is pantry-friendly.

This technique requires just a few basic pantry staples — white vinegar, sugar, and kosher salt — all things I bet you already have in your kitchen right now. No extras needed.

3. Quick-pickling is a technique to suit any vegetable.

The real beauty of making quick-pickled vegetables is that this is a technique — not a clearly defined recipe. All you need to know is the basic framework of how to make it happen, but the vegetables are totally up to you. And unlike recipes, techniques like this one are meant to be modified on a whim. Don’t have white vinegar? Go ahead and substitute rice wine vinegar for a different flavor profile.

Quick-Pickle Any Vegetable: The Technique

I’ve seen this simple process done several different ways, but I always come back to this method for its consistently reliable results.

Start by choosing and prepping your vegetable of choice. Since the pickling time is short (it is quick-pickling, after all), remember that the smaller the vegetable, or the thinner it’s sliced, the more flavor it will pick up. Prepare the pickling mixture, toss in any extra flavoring ingredients, bring it to a boil, pour the liquid over the veggies, and then let them marinate until dinner is ready.

Choose Your Vegetables

  • Radishes: Thinly slice or julienne this crispy root vegetable to get the most flavor.
  • Red cabbage: For super-flavorful results, slice the cabbage into long, thin strips.
  • Carrot: Depending on how you plan to use pickled carrots, slice them into thin rounds (about 1/8-inch thick), or use a peeler to shave them into long strands.
  • Onions: For the best boost of flavor, cut onions into thin slices.
  • Peppers: For bell peppers, slice into thin strips; for jalapeños, opt for small, thin rounds.

Make Your Brine

1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt

Combine these four ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Add the prepared vegetables to a heatproof bowl and pour the pickling liquid over top. Let it sit for 10 minutes before putting those veggies to work. Or cover and refrigerate them for up to one month.

Add Extra Flavor (If You So Choose)

While the basic template above is all you need, that’s not to say that you can’t add any flavorful extras. Use any of these optional add-ins to give the pickles a spiced, herbal, or smoky aroma.

  • Peppercorns: Use a spoonful of whole peppercorns to add a lightly spiced, peppery touch.
  • Ginger: Add a few slices of fresh ginger for a spicy and floral zing.
  • Star anise: Toss in a few pieces of star anise to bring in a nice, smoky aroma.
  • Fresh herbs: Take your pick of any fresh herbs you can get your hands on; I’m partial to dill, thyme, or mint.
  • Chili flakes: If you want to bring the heat, a small spoonful of chili flakes will get the job done.

Enjoy the Magic of Your Quick-Pickled Vegetables

Quick-pickled veggies do their best work as a garnish or condiment to finish off a dish, but don’t be afraid to eat them on their own. They’re that little something extra that gives your tacos some oomph, brightens up your salad or grain bowl, and makes an otherwise average sandwich really sing with the tangy crunch of that last, lonely, yet triumphant carrot — gone to glory instead of to waste.

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