The best way I know to extend the kitchen life of perishable produce while transforming it into delicious convenience food is to make quick pickled vegetables that are stored in the fridge. From spring asparagus to late season pickled peppers, refrigerator pickles are a great use for small batches of veggies with herbs. It takes but a few handfuls of tender green beans to make a beautiful jar of beans pickled with herbs.
Some pickled vegetables can go into the jars raw, while others benefit greatly from being cooked first, just to the point of doneness. Details for prepping six of my favourite vegetables for quick pickles are given below, but they share a common brine (the liquid pickling mixture). Simply mix 250ml of vinegar with 400ml water, stir in one teaspoon each of salt and sugar, and bring to a simmer. Pour this over your jars stuffed with prepared veggies and whatever herbs you like – garlic, dill, basil, or thyme are nice. Screw on a lid, chill, and enjoy for three weeks or longer, if your pickled vegetables last that long!
Cucumbers are synonymous with pickles for many people, and it’s hard to beat a nicely pickled cuke. I grow stout little pickling cucumbers for making canned or fermented pickles, but I make quick refrigerator pickles with curvy Armenian cucumbers or long, slender Asian varieties. Refrigerator pickles use less vinegar than canned ones, so cucumbers preserved this way have less bite and are suitable for use in tangy riatas if they are not all eaten outright.
Zucchini so productive and dependable that they've become my vegetable of choice for making sweet relish, which I often use in cold slaws and salads. It can be kept in the fridge for several weeks, or canned for long-term storage. Sweet relish calls for a stronger, sweeter brine, with more vinegar and sugar, but it’s a condiment worth having, in the pantry or the fridge.
Any type of summer squash will make a nice refrigerator pickle. Yellow squash keeps its bright colour and crisp texture, so it’s a good choice for mixing with carrots, onions and hot peppers in Vietnamese style quick pickled vegetables, made with rice wine vinegar and an extra spoonful of sugar.
Asparagus deserves a mention here because it does such a fantastic job of picking up other flavours when made into refrigerator pickles. It is important to cook asparagus first by simmering the cut pieces in brine for two minutes, which tenderises the spears and enhances their nutritional profile. For a taste of the sublime, make a jar of garlic-infused pickled asparagus and let it steep in the fridge for three days.
4. Green Beans
Green beans make a fun refrigerator pickle, and you will get the best results by first blanching the pods in steam or simmering water, and then cooling them on ice. Green beans handled this way will stay crisp while absorbing flavours added to the pickle, particularly those from fresh herbs. Dill and basil are excellent choices for bringing out the best in pickled green beans. Simply place well-washed sprigs in the bottom of a clean jar before adding blanched, cooled beans and covering them with hot brine.
Peppers always surprise me with how long they keep their crisp texture when handled as refrigerator pickles. I often use up the last of the pickled peppers I make in September during the holidays, after which they are sadly missed. And talk about easy to make! Clean jars are stuffed with peppers cut into uniform pieces, covered with hot brine, and popped into the refrigerator. In addition to making pickled peppers, you can use early-ripening peppers to add colour to refrigerator pickles comprised mostly of pale summer squash.
Radishes will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator so there is no hurry to use them, but I include them here because slight pickling makes salad radishes taste better. A bump of sugar, salt and vinegar enhances the texture of already-crisp radish slices, while toning down bitterness. Overnight, you get a spicy accompaniment for salads, noodle bowls or buttered bread that brings out the best in the humble radish.