From sweet-but-savory bell peppers to earthy beets to flavor-packed blends of fruits and vegetables, pickles are far more than a way to use up your garden’s overabundance of cucumbers.
Particularly if you’re doing a quick pickle session (more on that below), you can preserve many of the vitamins and minerals in the produce while having different flavor options, says Boston-based dietitian Erin Kenney, RD. “This is a great way to increase your amount of fruits and vegetables in general, and get more servings throughout the day,” she says.
Healthwise, adding more fruits and veggies to the end of your fork is a wise choice for several reasons. These foods support a strong immune system, as research has noted, and may improve your mental health, per a study.
Yet another benefit to taking on the task of pickling good-for-you foods yourself, says Kenney, is that you control the salt content. For pickle lovers who are watching their blood pressure, going the DIY route can be helpful. Commercially pickled foods tend to be high in sodium, and although you’ll still be using some salt in quick pickling as a preservative, the amount will be modest compared with a commercial product, she adds.
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How To Pickle Fruits And Veggies At Home
Which Foods Can You Pickle?
A shorter list might be what you can’t pickle. Once you start playing around with options, you’ll likely find a breadth of ingredients that meld together well for pickling. Here’s a sampling:
- Watermelon rind
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Sweet or spicy peppers
- Brussels sprouts
“There are no bad choices,” says Bonnie Nasar, RDN, of New Jersey. “Some of the easiest are cucumbers, cabbage, and cauliflower. Beets are an excellent addition to a pickling mix, as they add both robust color and flavor. The key is to find a good recipe and follow the instructions, because the ratio of ingredients is important for a successful pickling process.”
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Getting Started With Quick Pickles
There is, of course, a whole art to canning that involves a huge vat of boiling water, canning jars, the lids heated to a just-right temperature for sealing, and waiting for that satisfying “ping” when a proper seal is achieved.
But if you’re just getting started with pickling, want only a small quantity, or don’t have a whole day to spend on a kitchen project, you may want to opt for quick pickles instead. Also called refrigerator pickles, these can be whipped up fast and stored in the fridge, where they usually keep for one to two months, says Nasar.
Try these three steps for your first batch:
1. Make a Brine
There is a wide variety of brine recipes out there, with some using no sugar at all and others calling for different types of vinegar, but here’s a basic one for about a cup of brine:
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (tbsp) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (tsp) salt (preferably canning or kosher salt)
Whisk these together until the salt and sugar are dissolved. If you’re making a larger batch, it tends to be easier to heat the mixture in a pan so it dissolves more quickly. Heat only to that point — no need to bring to a boil.
2. Chop Your Food of Choice
This is where you can play around the most, putting in choices like hot peppers, cucumbers, garlic, and spices like dill or cloves.
3. Tightly Pack a Clean, Heat-Safe Jar and Pour In the Brine
Although you won’t be canning, jars that are appropriate for canning are useful because you can pour the brine in while it’s still hot. Fill until the liquid is about an inch from the top, seal with a lid, and put in the refrigerator immediately. Your vegetables will “pickle” in about 12 to 24 hours.
Another benefit of refrigerator pickles is that once you eat all the pickled vegetables or fruits, you can reuse the brine. Simply chop more options and put directly in the “old” brine, and it will pickle the new options overnight.
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Moving On to Fermented Pickles
Ready for level-two pickling? Try fermenting your vegetables first, suggests Kenney. That’s when you’re aiming for end products like sauerkraut and kimchi.
“Fermented pickles will benefit the gut microbiome more than vinegar pickles, because they have bacteria in them that helps maintain a healthy gut,” she says. One study found that the gut microbiome (a collection of bacteria in the gut) plays a fundamental role in aspects of health like immunity and inflammation levels, for instance.
Fermented foods and beverages can boost gut health, according to another study, because they protect beneficial microorganisms that are important for gut health.
Fermented pickles typically don’t go through the canning and pasteurization process to make them shelf stable, she adds, since that would kill the beneficial bacteria they contain. As with quick pickles, you have a huge range of produce options that can be fermented. For inspiration, Kenney recommends picking up a copy of Wild Fermentation or The Art of Fermentation, both by the fermentation guru Sandor Katz.
“Whatever you decide, remember to keep it fun and don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavors,” says Nasar. “Follow recipes and instructions for a while to get the hang of it, and when you do, you can start to play on your own.”
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