Coronavirus home cooking is now a part of American life. Sometimes you just need a project that will keep you busy and might just put you into a peaceful, more relaxed state of mind. After conquering sourdough bread, I turned my attention to something I’ve always wanted to make — pickles.
Not the kind that requires equipment and time, but quick or refrigerator pickles that offer instant gratification. Vegetables or fruits pickled in a vinegar, water and salt (sometimes sugar) solution and stored in the refrigerator make colorful, crunchy and tart condiments, side dishes or toppings for salads.
This type of pickling is becoming an important part of the globalized way we cook today — from Moroccan pickled vegetables, southeast Asian carrot and daikon pickles to Indian ginger pickled green mango.
As the name suggests, they’re fast — some are ready in as little as 10 or 15 minutes, while others might take a day or two. Use the freshest blemish-free vegetable or fruit you can find, like firm cucumbers, radishes and carrots.
Asparagus, string beans, rhubarb, cauliflower, bell peppers, or fruits like peaches, mangoes or watermelon rind make more unusual pickles. The vegetables can be cut into coins or matchsticks or pickled whole.
A basic brine is equal parts vinegar (white wine, apple cider, rice) salt and water, with additions like herbs (dill, thyme, rosemary, oregano), spices (coriander, ginger, mustard seeds, peppercorns), garlic and chiles.
The enticing recipe that follows showcases two pickling methods.
Pickled, grilled and crushed cucumbers with yogurt and chiles
Adapted from “Chasing Flavor: Techniques and Recipes to Cook Fearlessly” by Daniel Kluger, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($35.00).
Wines that pair well with pickles need residual sugar to balance the vinegar. Zind-Humbrecht Zind 2017 from Alsace ($22.99) with its vibrant fruit and light smokiness on the nose and a little sweetness on the palate makes this wine a tasty choice.
Grilled cucumber pickles
1 (¼-inch slice) yellow onion (from the widest part of the onion)
4 Persian cucumbers, sliced crosswise into ⅛-inch strips (use a mandolin if you have one)
1 cup white wine vinegar
1½ cups water
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ cup chopped dill fronds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Prepare a hot grill or preheat a grill pan over high heat. Wipe the grill a few times with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Grill the onion slice, flipping a couple of times, until very charred, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Pat the cucumber slices dry and grill, flipping once, until charred in spots but still crunchy, about 1 minute per side. Set the onion and cucumbers aside to cool, then transfer to a clean pint-size jar (you may need to cut the onion slice in half to fit).
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring, just until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Stir in the dill, red pepper flakes and garlic. Let the pickling liquid cool to room temperature, then pour over the cucumbers and onion. Seal the jar and refrigerate for at least 8 hours until using, or up to 1 week.
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely grated on a microplane
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and blend with a fork until well mixed. Refrigerate until ready to use. The yogurt can be made up to 1 day ahead.
Pickled crushed cucumbers
2 English cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 4-inch pieces
2 teaspoons plus a pinch kosher salt, separated
1 tablespoon plus a pinch sugar, separated
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely grated on a microplane
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Place the cucumber pieces on a cutting board and lightly smash them with the flat side of a chef ‘s knife or a saucepan. They should split slightly, and the seeds will loosen. Wipe away any loose seeds and cut the cucumbers on the bias into 1-inch pieces.
Transfer to a colander, add a large pinch each of salt and sugar, and toss. Fill a bowl with ice and place it on top of the cucumbers to help them drain. Drain for 30 minutes, then shake off any excess liquid.
In a medium bowl, whisk the rice vinegar with the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon sugar until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the cucumbers, toss gently, and let sit for at least 2 hours before using, or up to overnight.
Lime Yogurt (recipe above)
1 cup roughly diced cucumbers
Pickled Crushed Cucumbers
1 cup Grilled Cucumber Pickles, plus some of their liquid
¼ cup dill fronds
¼ cup roughly chopped mint
Splash extra-virgin olive oil
½ Fresno chile, thinly sliced
Sprinkle flaky salt
Spread some of the yogurt on the bottom of a serving platter. In a bowl, toss the raw cucumbers with the marinated cucumbers, pickles, dill and mint. Add a splash each of olive oil and the liquid from the pickled grilled cucumbers. Spoon the cucumber mixture over the yogurt, sprinkle with the chile and flaky salt, and serve.
Makes 4 servings.