Pickle Perfect Beets, Beans, Tomatoes & More
“We HAVE to order the homemade pickle assortment,” my friend informed me. We were in Madison, Wisconsin, at a famous restaurant — famous for its cheeses, which was what I really wanted to try. I was thinking “creamy indulgence” not “sour vegetables.”
But when I saw the slices of translucent color arrayed in front of me, I began to get the point. Pickles can be much more than just those forlorn dilled spears you get shoved off to the side of a deli order.
Pickling was a way of preserving produce in the old days; now pickling is a creative way of translating it. Once they’ve been introduced to a brine, even innocent vegetables like baby carrots take on a more sophisticated crunch and a uniquely tangy taste. Pickles add character to every meal. They’re a great accompaniment to leftover meats and sandwiches. Besides, it’s fun to eat a big, chunky condiment instead of the kind you spread on stuff.
As it turned out, my friend and I also ordered a cheese sampler at that Madison restaurant. This helped me see how well pickles and cheese go together. So everything worked out.
(Because we’re covering cucumber pickles later this month, today’s recipes are mostly for other vegetables and fruits. But for traditionalists who can’t see the word “pickle” without thinking “cuke,” there’s a classic cucumber pickle recipe as well.)
People with gardens are always looking for ways to use summer squash, which has a way of multiplying exponentially every time you blink. Well, make these pickles! Despite their name, they’re just sweet enough — perfect tucked into a ham or turkey sandwich. As with most of today’s recipes, the ingredients are minimally cooked, resulting in a fresher taste than you’d find in the traditional canned (or jarred) version. The tradeoff is that you should eat these pickles within a month — but that won’t be hard.
Pickled tomatoes are much cooler than ketchup. In this recipe, the tomatoes can be eaten as a spicy side dish or a juicy burger-topper. (Note that they’re so lightly pickled that they need to be used within only three days.) For an interesting textural contrast, throw in a few slices of green tomato as well. Why do people wait until summer’s end to use up their green tomatoes when they’re so good right now?
Regular beets are fine, but I actually prefer them pickled: their one-note sweetness becomes more nuanced when you add vinegar, spices, and a bit of salt. (As written, this recipe is salt-free, but I strongly recommend adding 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon uniodized salt.) Here’s another recipe that can be used as either side dish or condiment. And look at that color! You’ll never see a prettier pickle.
Cauliflower’s mild taste begs to be shaped and sharpened. Here the vegetables are brined with lots of garlic, lots of whole spices, and two full cups of vinegar. Crushed red pepper adds a touch of heat, turmeric a touch of color. Because these pickles are “put up” in jars in the traditional manner, you might want to read about classic pickling techniques before you start cooking.
I bless the long-ago cook who dreamed up “dilly” green beans. They’re brined in basically the same liquid used for cucumber dilled pickles–but because the beans contain so much less water, the texture is completely different. For maximum cuteness, trim only the stem end of each bean and leave the pointy tip alone. And don’t be tempted to use regular iodized salt instead of iodine-free pickling salt: iodine will make the brine dark and murky. At this time of year, you can find pickling salt in most big supermarkets. You can can substitute un-iodized kosher salt, but it won’t blend in quite as well as the pickling kind–which you can also order online.
The melon and melon-rind pickles Grandma used to make were a lot like this version, except that they contained no fresh ginger. Which, in fact, made them nothing like this version. The slivered ginger brings the whole thing to life! Grandma would be mortified if she knew what she’d been missing.
Here, at last, is our allotted cucumber pickle recipe. But it’s not the dill version you might be expecting. Bread-and-butter pickles are sweetly spicy, not sour and salty. Most sources say the name derives from the fact that sweet-and-sour pickles, along with bread and butter, appeared on every Depression-era supper table; a few state that selling these pickles provided housewives with “bread and butter” money. Because these pickles are definitely good enough to serve every day, I’m going with the first explanation.
Make all of these great recipes for dishes with fresh summer vegetables!