Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-auchool Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
Pickling vegetables is simply submerging something in a salt and water solution (brine) or an acidic ingredient like vinegar. In plain terms, while those vegetables pickle away in the jars, the good bacterium that exists naturally on vegetables snacks on the starches/sugars in the vegetable and secretes acids (namely lactic acid) that keep the vegetables from spoiling.
More importantly, pickling adds flavor to vegetables, gives them brightness, acidity and in some cases, increases their vitamin content. It’s not only the crunch of a good pickle laced with dill and mustard seeds that tastes great, it’s also the pickling liquid in the jar! I use it in salad dressings and sauces for meat and fish.
If you are planning to pickle vegetables for a while before eating, it is a detail-oriented and fairly straightforward process to make sure what you pickle or put up is safe to keep and then safe to eat!
A few important tips:
1. Use jars designed for home canning with tightly fitting lids without any dents or rust.
2. Select relatively tender vegetables (that are not wax-coated) of a relatively similar size so that each piece has the same general flavor. Mixed sizes can mean mixed flavor results.
3. Submerge the jars and the lids in simmering hot water while you prepare your brine. Use stainless steel pots so that no metallic notes are imparted to the food.
4. I like to use bottled water to omit chlorinated notes in water and for a more neutral taste.
Quick and Easy Pickles
Makes: 8-12 pickles
Oh boy, at the restaurant, after making these pickles, we cut them into spears; batter dip and deep fry them and serve them with spicy mayonnaise. Indulgent and delicious! You can also just open a jar and devour them solo as a snack after only a couple of days. Sometimes you just can’t wait!
3½ oz. sea salt
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
8 cups bottled water
About 1 lb. small K=kirby cucumbers, all relatively the same size, thoroughly washed and dried
16-24 sprigs fresh dill, washed and dried
2 tbsp. coriander seeds
1. Prepare the liquid: Mix the sea salt, apple cider vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes. Remove the brine from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Remove the jars, one by one, from the boiling water and fill each with the cucumbers, a little bit of the dill and a sprinkle of the coriander seeds. The cucumbers (or other vegetables) should be fitted tightly and should come within ½ inch of the top of each jar.
2. Seal and store: Fill each jar with the brine to the top and tap on a flat surface to remove any possible air bubbles. With the brine all the way to the top, wipe each top and rim with a cloth and tightly seal each jar. Refrigerate. After 24 hours, the lids should be flat on top and offer no resistance when you press down on it. After a few weeks, open the jars. Note: If there are any “off” odors, bubbles or scum, discard immediately.
Quickie Pickled Collard Greens
Makes: about 2 cups
This can sit for a few days in the fridge or just a few hours. It’s almost like a quickie sauerkraut so the shelf life will be short. If you only want a little, halve the recipe!
4 cups collard greens (or Tuscan kale), stemmed and cut into thin strips
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. caraway seeds
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 cups bottled water
Make the sauerkraut: In a large bowl, mix the collards (or kale) with the salt, sugar, red pepper flakes, caraway seeds and vinegar. In a medium pot over medium heat, bring the water to a gentle simmer and pour over the collards. Make sure the greens are submerged. Refrigerate for a few hours and up to a few days. Devour. Use the liquid for braising pork or even as a special ingredient for a salad dressing.
Makes: about 2 cups
Pickled fruit? Really? Yes, really! I love pickled cherry tomatoes and pickled apples.
1 cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup honey
1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. whole yellow mustard seeds
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
6 whole cloves
2 large granny smith or other firm apples (like Rome or Braeburn) apples
1. Make the pickling liquid: In a small saucepan combine all of the ingredients, except the apples, and over high heat bring up to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer five minutes. Whisk the mixture to combine.
2. Prepare the apples: Peel, cut in half and core the apples. Cut the apples into ¼ inch thick slices put the slices in a 1-quart mason jar or any container with a fitted lid.
3. Pickle: Pour the vinegar mixture over the apples and let sit covered overnight. The apples will be good for about a week in the refrigerator. I have been known to pickle these only for a day or two before devouring. Kind of nice to have something pickled that is mellow and tastes as much like the fresh vegetable as the pickled form!