Pickling vegetables is one of the oldest forms of food preservation. Although initially used only for that purpose, over time it’s become a culinary art. It’s also surprisingly easy to do at home.
If you want to learn how to pickle your own vegetables with optimal results, we’ve created this simple guide. Enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your own labor in no time.
Necessary Equipment and Ingredients
First things first; you’ll need the following items:
- Airtight mason jars: These secure your veggies and prevent the fermentation smell from overpowering your fridge.
- Vinegar: You can use white wine, apple cider, distilled white, or rice wine vinegar. They all do the trick but taste completely different. Experiment with each of them to choose a favorite. You might prefer white wine vinegar with your cucumbers, or, perhaps, an Asian-inspired, rice wine vinegar.
- Salt: A key ingredient for pickling, it must be of the right quality to dissolve nicely and enrich your fermentation. Avoid all salts with additives and anticaking agents. Not only do these influence the quality and color of the liquid, but they also turn into clumps and negatively impact flavor. Your best bet is a special salt created specifically for pickling, but natural sea salt will do just fine. Just make sure it’s not too coarse, as it will take longer to dissolve.
- Sugar: You can use white cane or brown sugar. You can also use honey, agave or maple syrup, or even coconut nectar. Keep in mind they all have a different flavor. Again, experiment and see what pairs best with your veggies. You can also omit the sugar—it’s only there to mask the tart, sour taste.
- Water: Use purified water, if possible. Then, chlorine and other treatment chemicals, or minerals, like iron or sulfur, won’t alter the flavor. If you use treated tap water, let it sit in a pitcher or container overnight to outgas the chlorine.
- Spices and herbs: Some classic pickling recipes include specific spices and herbs. However, feel free to change them or create your own.
Which Vegetables Are Good for Pickling?
The majority of people are familiar with pickled cucumbers, bell peppers, red onions, cabbage (or sauerkraut), and red beets. But did you know you can pickle everything from carrots, tomatoes, and cauliflower to mushrooms, squash, and even avocados?
The possibilities are endless! It just depends on what you have in the kitchen and want to turn into a pickled delicacy.
Let’s Start Pickling!
Now that you know what you need to prepare in advance, get out those veggies! Cut them into strips, thin disks, coins, or small cubes. Some vegetables (like beets) have to be cooked beforehand. Others, like green beans and asparagus, you’ll have to blanch, but the majority can be left raw.
Place them in your prepared jars and add any spices and herbs you’d like. Just make sure you don’t overstuff your jars, as you still need space for the brine. You can also mix and match your veggies—put your onions and carrots, or cucumbers and cabbage together. You’ll then get the benefits of both, while creating the perfect flavor combination.
You can make a basic brine with equal parts of vinegar and water, although the ratio can be changed according to your preference. Some people really love their pickles to be acidic, so they ramp up the vinegar, while others prefer a more subtle taste.
Put your vinegar and water mixture in a pot (the amount will depend on how many jars you’re planning to fill). Add your salt, sugar, and other spices, and then bring it to a boil. Stirring it constantly to dissolve the salt and sugar.
After two to three minutes, remove it from the heat, and then pour it over the vegetables. Fill each mason jar to within a 1/2 inch of the top. Gently tap the jars against your kitchen counter a few times until the air bubbles disappear. Finally, screw the lids on the jars really tight.
Let them cool on the counter for at least 15 minutes before you put them in the refrigerator. Leave them in the fridge without opening them for at least 48 hours.
As these aren’t canned with a vacuum seal, you have to keep your pickled veggies in the fridge, just as you would any store-bought pickled item after the seal’s been popped. Keep that in mind before you pickle everything—you might need a new refrigerator to store them all.
Your pickled veggies will stay good for a few months in the fridge.
Advanced Pickling Recipes
If you’re just starting out, there are plenty of cookbooks and online recipes that can help you before you start creating your own concoctions. You might want to start with the more common pickled veggies, like pickled onions and cucumbers. Then, you can move on to spicy garlic carrots, or combinations, like cauliflowers and red peppers.
Don’t be afraid to switch up some ingredients or spices—all great recipes come from experimenting!
Pickling your own vegetables is fun and easy! As you become more comfortable with it, you’ll be able to play with a variety of different flavors and food combinations. Elevate your favorite dishes with pickles and send your taste buds into a spin.