People usually think of pickling as a whole big process that takes a lot of time and effort — and we’ll be real. Often, it is. But you can also make pickles that take just minutes to prepare and are ready to eat before dinner’s on the table. They are called quick pickles.
When making a traditional pickle, the pickling process bumps up the acidity of vegetables and other low-acid foods. The result is not only safe for long-term storage but also carries a bright zing of flavor. Laboratory testing has shown that a one-to-one ratio of water to vinegar (with 5% acidity) safely pickles most vegetables for canning.
While you don’t need to be quite as particular with a quick pickle as with a canned one, sticking with equal parts vinegar and water is the best way to rapidly add that “pickled” flavor. This simple ratio also makes it easy to adapt a basic quick pickle recipe to almost any fruit or vegetable.
Pickle options, from A to Z
Many vegetables make crisp quick pickles. Cucumbers are a classic choice in America, but both zucchini and yellow summer squash are similar and make fantastic pickles.
Salad radishes have a natural peppery zing, while daikon radish is texturally similar, but imparts a mellower tone. Bell peppers balance the sharpness of vinegar with their sweet, almost fruity flavor, and chiles match vinegar’s bite with their own heat. Just slice each thinly, cover with brine, and let the vinegar work its magic.
Some vegetables take a little more prep, time, or both. Beets need to be cooked first, making quickly pickled slices a delicious way to reinvent leftover roasted beets. Thick vegetables, like asparagus spears, pickle best when covered in warm brine and left to sit an hour or so. Whole vegetables, like cauliflower florets or full garlic cloves, need longer curing times to become really tasty pickles.
Herbs and spices
Sliced onion, garlic cloves, and chunks of ginger are natural companions for many pickles. Coarsely ground or crushed spices, like black pepper, coriander, or chili flakes enhance the flavor of quick pickles while keeping the brine clear. A little sweetener, like raw cane sugar or maple syrup, can help balance the vinegar.
Vinegar-based pickles primarily use salt for flavor, so if you’re limiting your sodium intake, you can make vinegar brine with little to no salt. If your diet allows, however, I definitely recommend pre-salting the vegetables. This trick pulls out some of their natural water, making room for vinegar to rapidly move into the vegetables’ cells and keep them crisp.
The skinny on slicing
How you slice your main ingredients matters when making quick pickles. The thinner the slices, the faster the pickle brine can work itself into the vegetables. My favorite tool for even slices is a mandoline, a super-sharp slicing blade that swiftly turns a cucumber or onion into paper-thin rounds. But beware: it can cut into a finger as easily as a carrot. A cut-resistant glove can protect the hand that will be holding the produce as it passes over the blade. If you don’t have a mandoline, you can practice your knife skills with a sharp knife.
20-minute pickles for all occasions
Quick pickles come together so easily that you can make them for a late-night snack, as a light salad alongside lunch, or to savor between bites of dinner. Layer them onto a sandwich, toss them with fresh greens or boiled potatoes for an easy salad, or pile them atop fish or other meats like a relish. Quick pickles can also be diced and piled on toasted bread for bruschetta. Some even work well on pizza or in tacos. Let your imagination run wild.
Choose-Your-Own Quick Pickle Recipe
PREP TIME05 min
COOK TIME15 min
1 ½ cups vegetables, like sliced radishes, bell peppers, or cucumbers
¼ cup onion (optional)
1 teaspoon minced garlic and/or ginger (optional)
1 teaspoon flaky kosher salt
½ cup water
½ cup apple cider or white wine vinegar (5% acidity)
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
Herbs and spices to taste
Gently brush or wash any dirt from the vegetables and peel them as desired. Use a mandoline or very sharp knife to slice the vegetables, including any onion, as thinly as possible. Add them to a small bowl, sprinkle and toss with salt, and then set aside.
In a medium measuring cup, whisk the water, vinegar, and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Lightly press and drain any liquid from the vegetables, and then toss the slices with garlic and/or ginger, if using. Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables, pushing them under the brine until they are submerged.
Let the pickles sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. If not serving immediately, store the pickles, submerged in brine, in an airtight container in the refrigerator and eat them within a few days.