Every year we host at least 2 big outside parties – the pig roast on the 4th of July and Oktoberfest in the fall. One of the first things I do to get ready for Oktoberfest, once the hot sauce is bottled, is to make some crunchy, briny pickled vegetables to balance out the beer and brats. I raided the garden for cherry tomatoes, cherry peppers, cayenne peppers, carrots, and cabbage, as well as hitting the store for cucumbers, celery, cauliflower, and green beans (for the morning-after bloody Marys).
I hated pickles when I was a kid. To me, pickles were the pale green, slightly slimy and squishy things that sat in my parents’ refrigerator for months. Those pickles made me cringe when I was younger, and still do. When I discovered the wonders of Italian giardiniera and spicy Mexican escabeche, I learned the problem wasn’t pickles per say, but the quality, variety, and seasonings. A good pickle should snap in your mouth, releasing the natural vegetable flavors inside accompanied by a burst of spicy, salty brine.
Since I have neither the patience or the equipment to truly can pickled vegetables, I make “quick pickles”, which need just a couple of days in the refrigerator to reach full flavor and will last about 10 days after that before they start to lose their crispness.
- Vegetables of your choice (i.e. cherry tomatoes, cayenne peppers, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, celery, cauliflower, or green beans)
- 2 habanero peppers (any hot pepper will work) with seeds
- 3 smashed garlic cloves
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon caraway
- 1 teaspoon celery seeds
To jump start the process and ensure flavors merge, start off by heating the vinegar and water in a large pot over medium heat. Once it comes to a simmer, mix in the salt, sugar, and spices and let simmer for 10-20 minutes while you chop your vegetables and cram them into jars. This will: (1) kick start the pickling process by starting with hot vinegar by partially cooking the vegetables, (2) extract the flavors from the seeds and spices, and (3) soften the peppercorns and seeds so that people like me can relish in eating the floating seasonings on top of the brine once the pickles are gone.
While that’s cooking, cut the habaneros in half and add the garlic cloves to each jar, then slice up your vegetables – since most of mine will end up on brats, hot dogs, or knockwurst, I cut them thin enough to fit between sausage and bun but thick enough to maintain a nice crunch – between ¼ inch thick and ½. For something like green beans, okra, or asparagus I trim them and leave whole then blanche for 45 seconds before plunging into an ice bath to help retain the bright green flavor.
Once the veggies are chopped, distribute them into your jars and ladle in the brine, making sure to even distribute the spices and to fill each jar to the top. Pick the jars up and tap repeatedly on the counter a few times as you go along to get as many air bubbles out as possible. Then seal them up, allow them to cool, and pop them into the refrigerator for a few days.