Over the course of my life, I've had a complicated relationship with pickles. When I was very young, anything that was pickled horrified me. Growing up, I used to recoil at the pungent smell of homemade kimchi and various other pickled items that my mother loves (our fridge was always well-stocked with several types - napa cabbage, cucumber, or bracken fern kimchi, pickled garlic cloves, pickled skate, etc.). Quite the picky eater, I used to scrape pickles off of burgers and sandwiches, wrinkling my nose at their briny scent.
I grew up in Seattle but attended college on the east coast, and during a trip to New York, I had my first taste of a serious kosher dill at Katz's Delicatessen. I've heard tons of complaints about Katz's being an overpriced tourist trap, but I can still remember the awesome taste of my first mouthful of pastrami perfectly cut by a bite out of a cool cucumber pickle. Since then, I've been hooked!
Until this summer, however, I had never attempted to pickle anything at myself, at home. I joined a CSA for the first time this past spring, and the resulting abundance of vegetables led me to consider trying out some pickling experiments. I'm proud to say that all but ONE of them worked! The failed attempt involved Asian turnips, which came out mushy and off-tasting. However, the rest of my pickles have all been tasty - sugar snap peas, carrots, Napa cabbage kimchi (which I'll blog about soon!), and the subjects of today's post - red onions and Kirby cucumbers.
I chose to make the pickled red onions (along with an apricot and amaretti crostata) to bring to a BBQ hosted by some dear friends, so I need a recipe that would allow us to eat the onions after just a few hours of pickling. I also wanted to bring a jar of cucumber pickles as a gift, but I wanted to start with a refridgerator pickle recipe - mostly so my friends wouldn't have to wait too long before eating them! I pored over dozens of recipes for both the onions and the cucumbers, and wound up improvising with some of the ingredients but using tried-and-tested techniques. And both turned out extremely well. The onions are a perfect condiment - I've been eating them with everything for the past few weeks! And the cucumber pickles are just as I like them - super crunchy, with clear notes of garlic, dill, and a hint of spice from the hot chili flakes.
Quick Pickled Red Onions (adapted mostly from David Lebovitz)
2 large red onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 c white distilled vinegar
6 Tbsp sugar
Large pinch of salt
2 bay leaves
Star anise, Juniper berries or any other spices that seem appealing...
Black peppercorns or chili flakes, depending on preference
- Heat all ingredients except onions in a large, non-reactive saucepan, until boiling (note: I used spices that I had on hand that I thought would be appropriate with the onions, 2 star anise pods, 8 juniper berries, and 12 peppercorns. You can be creative here!)
- Add onions, and reduce heat, simmering gently until onions soften slightly (about a minute)
- Remove from heat, allow to cool completely
- Transfer to jars and keep in refridgerator. Will keep for several months (though Lebovitz comments that they are best the week they are made - mine didn't stick around for that long!)
10 Kirby cucumbers, washed and cut into spears
2 quarts water
1 c cider or white vinegar
1/2 c kosher salt
2-3 garlic cloves per jar
Mustard seeds, juniper berries, red chili flakes (or any combo of pickling spice that you like!)
- Bring water, vinegar, and salt to a boil
- In the meantime, place a sprig of dill, some garlic, and some of the spices into the bottom of each jar. Fill jars with cucumbers. Top with more dill, garlic, and spices
- Pour hot brine into jars until everything is covered, and top with lids
- Store at room temp for 2 or 3 days. Then, transfer to the fridge and let sit for about a week (note: I couldn't resist here, and sampled one after 2 days. It was delicious! But they did get better as they continued to sour, slightly. 1-2 weeks in the fridge is perfect)