If you’ve ever visited a Pacific island or you’ve been to a local restaurant that serves island-style fair, you may have noticed several items on the menu that are pickled. You’ll notice foods like pickled onion, pickled cabbage, pickled cucumber, and even pickled mango.
Then there are pickled dishes like kimchi, a mix of salted and pickled cabbage, scallions, garlic, ginger, gochugaru, and jeotgal. With so many pickled dishes circulating, perhaps you’d like to try making some pickled foods for yourself.
While it may be possible to pickle anything, it doesn’t mean you should. For inspiration on the best foods to pickle, visit Big Island BBQ in Liberty Lake — your local restaurant serving all kinds of island-style cuisine.
Build A Brine
You can pickle most foods with just three or four basic ingredients: water, vinegar, salt, and/or sugar.
- Most water is safe to use, but hard water has heavy minerals that could discolor vegetables. Use purified water for the best results.
Mix equal parts water and vinegar for your brine. If you plan on canning your vegetables, use a vinegar that’s at least 5% acetic acid.
- Use vinegars like white vinegar, apple cider, white wine, or rice vinegar. You can also combine these if you’d like.
- Avoid aged or concentrated vinegar like balsamic or malt vinegar.
- If you’re salting your brine, use pure sea salt without any additives. Otherwise, the salt could cloud your brine.
- You can use table sugar if you want a sweeter brine.
Now that you have a basic brine, it’s time to choose your vegetables and spices. Remember to check out your local restaurant that serves pickled menu items for ideas.
Prepare Your Vegetables
Pickled vegetables turn out best when you use the freshest produce. You can prepare these vegetables in different ways depending on how you plan to eat them.
Smaller veggies, like cherry tomatoes, taste best when they’re preserved whole. Other vegetables can be sliced into coins or spears — think cucumbers and carrots. Other great vegetables to slice and pickle are summer squash, ginger, and red onion.
Vegetables like green beans and asparagus have an additional — but completely optional — step: blanching. Blanch these vegetables in boiling water for two to three minutes, then shock in an ice bath; this preserves their green color but isn’t necessary for the preservation process.
Spice Things Up
The key to delicious, fermented vegetables is the herbs and spices you choose to add to the brine. You can choose fresh herbs, dried herbs, and whole or ground spices. Choose fresh herbs like dill, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. These herbs can also be used dried, as well as marjoram.
Whole spices like mustard seeds, coriander, peppercorns, and red pepper flakes add a lot of the flavors you’d recognize in a pickle; while ground spices like turmeric and smoked paprika add bold flavor, as well as color.
Other ingredients that add sumptuous flavor to your brine are garlic and fresh ginger. Smashed garlic cloves offer a lighter taste while adding sliced garlic will give you a much stronger flavor. Peel and thinly slice your ginger root to use as flavoring.
Now that you’ve mixed your brine, prepared your vegetables, and combined your spices, it’s time to put everything together.
- Fill your jars with your prepared vegetables, packing them tightly but not smashing them. Leave ½ inch of room at the top of the jars.
- Add your spice mixture to the vegetables.
- Boil your brine and stir to dissolve the salt and/or sugar. Pour the brine over the vegetables; the spice mixture will start to mix with the brine. Fill the jars within ½ inch of the rim.
- Gently tap the jars against the counter to remove any air bubbles, and add more brine if necessary.
- Place the lids on the jars and screw the rings on tightly. Let the jars cool to room temperature before storing them in the fridge. Wait at least 48 hours before opening the jar; the longer the vegetables pickle, the better flavor they will have.
After a few rounds of pickling, you can start to get more creative with your produce and spice mixtures. Try fruits like peaches, apples, pears, and plums. Use spices like cloves, cinnamon, and star anise for a sweeter brine blend.