Easy Refrigerator Pickles Recipes to Reduce Food Waste
Additional reporting and updates by Katherine Sacks.
Buying fresh produce can sometimes feel like a race against time: soft lettuces and berries need to be used up quickly, leafy greens can hang out for a day or two, sturdy roots give us a bit more breathing room. But even the best food storage approach sometimes leaves us with a little more produce than time. Whether your CSA runneth over, you went a little crazy at the farmers’ market or life just got in the way, it’s not uncommon to face a crisper drawer that is threatening to expire. In those moments, you can easily turn the extra vegetables into refrigerator pickles to give them a boost of extra life.
Refrigerator pickles are like a magic time machine. The sharp vinegar bath stops spoilage on the spot, giving you two-plus extra months to enjoy delicious vegetables that you would have otherwise tossed. And unlike a recipe for shelf-stable pickles that follows a precise formula, quick pickles rely on the chill of the refrigerator and can be processed in around 5 minutes. The quick and easy recipe allows for a lot of room for experimentation to create endless variations on a theme.
The Basics of Making Refrigerator Pickles
The ingredients for making quick pickles are so simple they are probably already in your pantry. You’ll need vinegar, water, kosher salt and sugar for a basic brine. (Don’t use iodized salt for your pickles, as it could make the brine cloudy and change the color and texture of the vegetables.)
The basic ratio for quick pickles is 1:1 vinegar to water, and includes some combination of salt and sugar. Another ratio that is commonly followed is the 3:2:1 method, using three parts vinegar, two parts water, and 1 part sugar. Once you start making quick pickles, you can adjust the ratio according to your own taste. Along with the basic ingredients, you can also use other types of vinegar and sugar, such as brown sugar, apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar. And don’t forget about spices — adding herbs like rosemary and thyme and spices such as red pepper flake, peppercorns, and fennel seed can create a whole range of pickle flavors.
Fruits and Vegetables to Use for Refrigerator Pickles
The list of produce that you can use is extensive, if not endless; anything that’s a bit sturdy will do. Many root vegetables, such as beets, turnips, carrots and radishes make excellent pickles. Sturdy cabbages are classic. Green beans and asparagus are pretty. Summer favorites like sweet peppers and fiery chilis, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash love the brine. Lilies such as onions, garlic, shallots and leeks treated this way make excellent accouterments for sandwiches and cheese platters. Pickled cauliflower will surprise you. And for fragile items, such as green leafy vegetables — chard, collards, kale — their stems are your best bet.
How to Use Refrigerator Pickles
Once you’ve made these easy refrigerator pickles, you’ll have extended the shelf life of your produce for another 2-plus months. But you’ll still need ways to use the pickles. First, think of ways you’d use traditional pickles: on salads, on a crudite platter, for a quick snack, to finish a martini. All of these are great ways to use up your homemade pickles as well.
Beyond that, you can chop up pickled root vegetables to go into salads or as a tangy garnish for soups or stews. Chop up some of your pickled leafy green stems for a homemade relish, a great burger topping or dip for fried fish. Pickles are perfect for adding to toast, especially with any kind of tinned fish; they also make a refreshing side to roasted or grilled meats. Stir them into egg or macaroni salad; sprinkle them on top of tacos; or batter and fry them for a crispy treat. Once you start making pickles and adding them into your everyday cooking, you won’t be able to stop!
The following is a master recipe for making refrigerator pickles, as well as a few ideas for spiced variations.
Recipe: Refrigerator Pickles
Sherri Brooks Vinton, FoodPrint
Yield: Makes 1 quart
So easy, so delicious. Follow this simple formula or vary it with flavored vinegars and spices to make a pickle that is all your own. If you have canning jars, now would be a great time to use them — they’re very good at taking on hot liquids without cracking. Otherwise, be sure to use a heat-proof bowl to contain your hot brine.
1 1/2 cups white distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Spices, if using (see variations below)
1 pound assorted vegetables, prepped as follows:
Cucumbers, summer squash and/or zucchini, cut into 1/4″ coins or spears;
Root vegetables, peeled, cut into 1/4″ coins;
Cabbage and/or onions, cut into 2” pieces;
Chilis, pierced with a knife in 1-2 places, or cut into rings or strips;
Garlic cloves, peeled;
Cauliflower, separated into florets;
Asparagus and/or green beans, trimmed
Combine the vinegar, salt, a pinch of sugar, spices (if using) and 1 1/2 cups water in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt, about one minute. Then combine this brine and the vegetables using one of the following methods:
- Cold pack: Delicate vegetables such as cabbage leaves, cucumbers and summer squash can be packed into the jars raw and covered with hot brine — just pour it right into the jar. The heat of the hot liquid is sufficient to soften them. This is also the method you want to use for spicy chilis to keep all of that fire in the jar.
- Hot pack: Crunchier specimens, such as root vegetables, cauliflower, asparagus and green beans need a little softening. To take the edge off of their raw bite, quickly blanch them in the brine pot by simmering for 1 minute in the boiling vinegar mixture. Allow mixture to cool, then transfer to jars, cover and refrigerate.
Whichever method you use, it’s important to keep the food completely submerged under the brine during storage, as anything exposed to air will deteriorate quickly. Fully submerged vegetables will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.
- Pub favorite refrigerator pickles: 1 cup white distilled vinegar, 1/2 cup malt vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon celery seeds, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- Spicy Thai refrigerator pickles: 3/4 cup white distilled vinegar, 3/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 sliced Thai chili or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Sesame refrigerator pickles: 3/4 cup white distilled vinegar, 3/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- Caraway-dill refrigerator pickles: 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, 1 teaspoon dill seeds
- Red wine-peppercorn refrigerator pickles: 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Top photo by senteliaolga/ Adobe Stock
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