Pickling is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. It encourages the growth of good bacteria, thereby preventing the spread of microorganisms that can make us sick. Many pickled foods go through fermentation, which can take several weeks, but you can also pickle things more quickly by soaking food in an acidic brine.
Quick pickles focus more on flavor than preservation, but can still keep several weeks in your refrigerator. These pickles are quick because they don't require the canning process.
You can select any crisp vegetable for quick pickles - green beans, cauliflower, carrots, or a combination. There are a number of recipes available, and I'll share one with you now, but once you have the basic principles down, you can modify this recipe to suit your own tastes. My favorite pickled vegetable is the cucumber with a bit of sweet onion, and as you know I like things spicy, so my recipe reflects my preferences.
Quick Spicy Pickles
Makes 1 1/2 - 2 pints
1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 small, young Vidalia onion, sliced very thin
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp white sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp dried dill
First you need to prepare your vegetables. Trim off any inedible bits, and try to cut them in uniform thickness for consistent preparation. Place them in prepared containers. I use glass jars recycled from other products. Make sure they are really clean and don't still smell like the item previously contained or it will change the flavor and appearance of your pickles.
Next, create your brine. The main ingredient is vinegar. I like the combination of white and cider vinegars, but you can use just about any kind. I don't recommend balsamic vinegar, however because it is too syrupy. You can eyeball the amount to ensure your veggies will be covered.
Salt is always included to draw moisture out of the vegetables and encourage growth of useful bacteria. Sweeteners are also often included, especially if the vinegar amount is not diluted with water. I prefer white sugar, but you could try brown sugar, honey, agave syrup, etc... Finally, you add the spices. I like strong, spicy flavors, but you could try other more subtle spices and herbs or even grab a jar of pickling spice.
Let mixture simmer over medium-low heat, stirring as the sugar and salt dissolve. Let it come to a boil, but don't let it scorch.
Turn off the heat, and pour the hot brine over the vegetables already in clean glass jars. If they aren't completely covered, you can add enough water to submerge them. Close the jars and let the pickles brine in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The longer you brine, the more flavorful they become.
Once a jar is opened again, it will keep in the fridge for about 10 days. Unopened jars keep in the fridge about a month.