Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Quickle pickle

For the past few months, the Bear has been on a quest for the perfect homemade sauerkraut recipe, and I'm sorry to report that he hasn't achieved it yet. I'm not much of a sauerkraut fan even when it's the best possible example of the food, but these attempts have been...unimpressive. The first batches went bad altogether - right past the safely-fermented stage - and the most recent doesn't seem fermented at all, just watery, salty cabbage in a jar no matter how long it sits there. He wants to keep trying; he certainly has my support. Cabbage and salt are cheap and he can try as many times as he likes, as far as I'm concerned. He's the one who loves sauerkraut, after all. His attempts at sauerkraut have made me interested in pickling again, as I was a couple of years ago. I made pickled carrots and cucumber slices using recipes I'd torn out of Sunset magazine years before. I really liked them, and had been keeping the idea of making more quick pickle recipes in the back of my mind.

Let me backtrack...a couple of weeks ago, the Bear borrowed a Mark Bittman cookbook from the library (How to Cook Everything: The Basics) and we've both been thumbing through it in our spare time. It's a nice cookbook, full of really simple, well...basic, recipes for things that are truly everyday foods. I've been needing more recipes like this in my life lately. I'm always eager to try new things, but I'm also striving to develop a better set of simple meals to keep in the rotation. As our kids get older and life gets busier, I'm feeling less inclined toward really experimental cooking and more drawn to getting simple cooking right, such that everyone likes and wants to eat the things I'm cooking. They're less likely to do so when I'm trying to branch out and do fancier things, it turns out. I'd rather see them eat the meals and enjoy them, and if it's easier for me to churn the meals out, even better.

So the pickles...Bittman has a section on appetizers and snacks where he includes a recipe for quick-pickled cucumber spears, along with suggestions for other quick-pickled vegetables such as carrots and cauliflower. These pickles are not fermented; they might be better described as marinated. You're making a simple vinegar-based liquid for them to rest in, as opposed to leaving them to nature's special microbial process. I decided to start with cucumbers, as in the main recipe, because they were two for a dollar in the grocery store, and gigantic.

Quick Pickle Spears
adapted from How to Cook Everything: The Basics, by Mark Bittman

1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
2 large cucumbers

I peeled my cucumbers because I used the kind with tough skins and an added wax coating. If you have nicer cucumbers, such as the English variety, you don't need to peel them. I used the regular kind because English cucumbers cost more than four times as much as they do in my grocery store - hardly the kind of expense I want to undertake for homemade quick pickles. You can remove the seeds, but I didn't bother because I like the seeds.

Cut the pickles in half crosswise, then cut each half lengthwise. Then cut each piece into three spears, for a total of a dozen spears from each cucumber.  

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, oil, garlic, salt and bay leaf with 2 cups of water. Bring this mixture to a boil on the stove.

Remove the vinegar mixture from the heat and add the cucumbers. Leave them in the mixture for 30 minutes, stirring the cucumbers occasionally so that they all get some time submerged in the mixture while it cools.

Transfer the cucumbers to a container that has a lid, adding the liquid from the pot. I chose to use quart-capacity mason jars with two-piece lids, just because I had some handy. You can eat the pickles right away, or refrigerate them overnight, as I did, to allow the flavors to develop. Bittman says they should stay fresh for at least a week in the fridge.

We tried our pickle spears the next day with our lunch, chicken salad on English muffins. They were good! I liked the surprising crispness of them, but I would have liked a bit more flavor. I could try adding mustard seeds or dill to the recipe next time; these were more like eating cucumbers with oil-and-vinegar dressing, but I suppose that's what you get with quick pickling. Also, having oil on a pickle is a new experience for me; I made sure we ate our pickles over our plates to avoid oily drops everywhere. I would like to try other vegetables as suggested. I think a mixture would be nice. Maybe next time, I'll try carrots or cauliflower, or a mixture of both.


  1. Way to go on the pickles. They look delicious. I used to make bread and butter pickles all of the time and our family loved them. I haven’t made them recently, but this post makes me want to get out the pickle crock. Thanks Jennifer.

  2. They sound great, and I love the idea of pickled cauliflower. I'm really enjoying fermenting things at the moment, so I hope the Bear perfects sauerkraut at some stage, it's delicious and really great for the body too. CJ xx

  3. I've made chutney before but that's all. The vegetables do look nice prepared in their jars. I hope you perfect your recipes because as you say, you want them to taste good too. All the best with your pickling, Cathy x

  4. Your pickles look delicious! I do love a good pickle with a sandwich or a burger. I've never made my own pickles before, but it looks fairly simple, and like something I could pull off. I hope the Bear eventually perfects his sauerkraut. I'm not a big fan of it, but it's a must on my reuben along with dill pickle on the side, of course!

  5. I love sauerkraut but haven't had it in a long time, nor have I ever made any. I have made pickled cucumbers though, I must look up the recipe and email you it, I know you would like it. I could eat pickled cucumber all day long. I totally agree with you, back to the basics and cook those well is the way to go. Having said that, I have been cooking rather a lot from the Pati Jinich cookery book you recommended a good while ago... the ingredients are not always easy to come by but the recipes are good and simple. x

  6. Those pickles looked yum and such an easy recipe to follow ♥ Do lots of simple cooking here and follow low carb too.

  7. They certainly look appetising and it's a nice simple recipe too. Sauerkraut is something I've never tried but I hope the Bear manages to find a recipe which works for him.

  8. I love pickled cucumbers I really must try this Jennifer, thank you for the recipe. :) x

  9. I do a lot of pickles and preserves but have never done my own sauerkraut. Hopefully Bear will be able to master it and share the secret to success.

  10. We all love sauerkraut and pastrami sandwiches! I haven't made any so share when you know how. I like these kind of quick pickles. I do a carrot one which I haven't done for a while and my mother-in-law lives next to a carrot field and gave me loads yesterday so you have inspired me to dig out my recipe tomorrow - it is a Nigella one. Jo x

  11. Interesting experiment! I do buy the English cukes (and organic, at that!) even though they're expensive. I don't like the seeds in the regular cucumbers. I haven't tried making my own sauerkraut, but my mom is just now experimenting. It'll be interesting to see how hers turns out. Mark Bittman cookbooks are pretty awesome. I have "How to Cook Everything."

  12. Wow!
    You are impressive!!!!
    I can learn a lot form you. : )
    Have a cozy evening.

  13. Mmmm that sounds interesting xxx They sound delishous for lunch xx

  14. Those pickles have got my mouth watering.
    Wishing the Bear good luck with the sauerkraut

  15. Mmm, these look really good. I love pickles but I've never made my own. I could identify with what you said about family cooking too, about just doing the basic stuff right. Good advice. x


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