Carrot & Kombu Quick Pickles
Making quick pickles is one of the fastest and easiest ways to preserve the harvest. The recipe below only takes about a half hour to put together and can last a couple months in the refrigerator. It’s a great way to stretch produce if you don’t have a chance to cook it before it goes bad (or if you find a great sale at the farmers market).
*I originally posted some of the information below when I was blogging for Tant Hill Farm but I wanted to share it here as well. I have added some additional details that I think you will find useful. I tried to be as thorough as possible but post any questions in the comment section below and I’ll try my best to answer!
Quick vs Fermented Pickles
Quick pickles are made by flavoring sliced or chopped produce with an acidic brine, which typically includes herbs and/or spices. Although they are called quick “pickles” it is important to understand a few ways in which they differ from traditional, fermented pickles.
- Time: quick pickles are ready in a matter of hours or days whereas fermented pickles take days, weeks or even months.
- Flavor development: quick pickles get their flavor from the acidic brine and any flavoring components whereas fermented pickles get flavor from bacteria present during the fermentation process. Fermented pickles tend to have a more complex and developed flavor but you have more control over the final flavor with quick pickles.
- Shelf Life: quick pickles have to be refrigerated and typically last only a couple of months, unlike fermented pickles which have a much longer shelf life.
Quick Pickle Basics
- Vinegar/Water Ratio: I suggest starting with equal parts vinegar to water to see how you like the balance of flavor. You can always adjust it during the next batch. Determining the amount of brine you need is a little tricky. If you want to make a small batch of preserves, around a quart, I would start with 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup of water for a total of 2 cups. I find that after I add the vegetables, this is enough to cover everything without having too much left over.
- Types of Vinegar: I wouldn’t use balsamic vinegar but just about anything else goes – apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, distilled white vinegar. I typically use distilled white vinegar because it is inexpensive and the flavor is pretty neutral. The type of vinegar you use will most likely change how much, if any, sugar you use. Rice vinegar has a low acidity level (~4%) so you may find that you don’t need any sugar, or just a small amount, to balance out the acidity. Other vinegars, such as white and red wine vinegar, have a higher acidity (~7%) and you may find it too tart if you don’t add some sugar.
- Flavorings: Whole spices and crushed garlic are great places to start when deciding how to flavor your brine. I prefer to keep the spicing relatively mild so I can use my pickles on just about anything. Mustard seeds, bay leaves and peppercorns are classic but don’t stop there. I have added cumin seeds, fennel seeds, allspice, cinnamon sticks, cloves and dried hot chiles to batches in the past. The flavor combinations below are from a great quick pickle class I took with Caroline Thompson at Crabtree Farms.
- Traditional: bay leaf, whole cloves, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorn, allspice berries, dill seeds
- Italian: fennel seeds, garlic, chile peppers, oregano, bay leaf, lemon zest
- Bread & butter: mustard seeds, turmeric, celery seeds, garlic, onion, extra sugar
- Tex mex: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried or fresh hot peppers, garlic
- Dilly: fresh or dried dill, mustard seeds, garlic, coriander seeds, black peppercorn
- Chinese five spice: star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds
- Curry: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, prepared curry powder, dried chile flakes, garlic, black pepper
- Gingered: fresh sliced ginger, orange zest, cinnamon
- Sugar: many quick pickle recipes I find include A LOT of sugar! When I first started making quick pickles, I wouldn’t add any sugar at all, but the results were less than wonderful. Just a couple of tablespoons really helps balance the flavors. I tend to use granulated sugar as to not mask the flavor of whatever I am preserving but you could also use brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave or sorghum. I would be more likely to try these with fruit preserves.
- Pre-cook: some vegetables, like greens, thinly sliced onions or thinly sliced cucumbers don’t need to be pre-cooked. Simply pour the hot brine over the vegetables and they will soften just enough. Others, like carrots or beets, need to be cooked a little beforehand to ensure they aren’t too crunchy. Still others, like green beans, benefit from blanching to set the color.
- Time: the amount of time you let the vegetables sit in the brine is completely up to your tastes. I recommend trying them every day to see how they change. Many recipes I have tried suggest letting them sit a couple of days to a week before eating but I usually don’t have the patience so I just dig right in.
Produce to Use
While cucumbers are great pickled, there are so many other options! Here is an incomplete list that I think would work great.
- Vegetables: cucumbers, carrots, radishes, onions, summer squash, winter squash, kohlrabi, cauliflower, green beans, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, beets, okra, garlic scapes, eggplant, peppers, turnips, fennel bulb
- Fruit: peaches, pears, apples, figs, grapes, berries, plums, cherries, pineapple, cranberries, dried fruit (raisins), watermelon rind
The type and size of the produce you use will determine whether it needs to be cooked or blanched before making them into pickles.
- Thinly slice: the benefit of thinly slicing your produce is that you don’t have to worry about cooking or blanching it. You can simply pour the hot brine over the fruit or veg and and it will soften slightly as it sits. You can also add the slices to the brine for just a minute or two to give it a head start.
- Spears / chunky: you can definitely leave produce in larger chunks but you will most likely want to cook them slightly beforehand, otherwise they will be too crunchy and the flavor won’t penetrate as much.
- To blanch (from Cook’s Illustrated): Bring 2-1/2 quarts water to boil in large saucepan over high heat; add salt and produce, return to boil, and cook until ingredient is crisp tender, which usually only takes a few minutes (but this all depends on size). Meanwhile, fill large bowl with ice water. Drain produce in colander and transfer immediately to ice water. When they no longer feel warm to touch, drain in colander again and use as needed.
How to Use
Quick pickles can be eaten as is, of course, but their tanginess makes them great in so many other dishes.
- Cheese: add them to a cheese plate or tuck into a grilled cheese
- Relish: great chopped up and used with meat or beans
- Salads: not only would they be great added whole to a fresh green salad, but they would work great chopped up and added to egg or potato salad
- Sandwiches: quick pickles are the perfect combo of crunch and acidity that is needed in bread, meat and cheese laden sandwiches
- Grains: great mixed with grain based bowls of any type – rice, couscous, bulgur, quinoa etc.
Carrot and Kombu Quick Pickle
A lightly crunchy pickle with the perfect balance of sweet, acidic, and sea flavors.
Add the vinegar, water, kombu, garlic, sugar and salt to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to ensure the sugar and salt have dissolved. Add the carrots and cook for an additional 2 minutes (the liquid may not come back up to a boil, which is fine, the goal is to just slightly soften them).
Transfer to a quart sized canning jar and allow to come to room temperature. Seal with a lid and transfer to the refrigerator. Enjoy within two months.
I sliced the carrots using the 3mm setting on my Oxo mandoline (which translates to about .12 inches).