A variety of preserved foods in jars.
If your kitchen cabinets are currently storing more than one empty glass jar, you are officially missing an easy pickling opportunity.

Pickled fruits and vegetables are the absolute best way to add some excitement to any recipe, cheese plate, or mid-afternoon snack attack. There are many pickling strategies, which can be grouped together and generalized as “long” or “quick.” And while we love a convoluted long pickle, summer is all about the quick pickle.

“Long” pickling can take weeks, or even months, to achieve a gloriously zesty and sour pickled product. A longer pickle tends to bring fermentation into the picture, which creates complex flavors that we absolutely adore. You’ll likely see these more complex pickles at high-end restaurants, or in a bucket at the deli as half-sour pickles.

As the name suggests, quick pickling is just the opposite of that. Quick pickling involves no fermentation, and the briny flavor comes strictly from a mixture of water, vinegar, sugar, and salt (plus other flavoring ingredients like garlic, ginger, chiles, and herbs). A quick pickle can be achieved in as little as an hour for a mild flavor.

Familiar quick pickles may be pickled red onions, which you often see on tacos or other Mexican or Tex-Mex dishes. The pickling works to accomplish two things in this case: it adds a tanginess, but it also helps to remove some of the bite that we don’t always love in a raw onion.

Quick pickles can be used for absolutely anything, but we especially love them as an addition to salads, as a sandwich topper, or as a garnish for any number of rich dishes (tangy, vinegary ingredients help to balance rich ingredients like cream, cheese, or meats). Once you get used to having them around, you’ll find yourself adding them to just about every plate you prepare, from fried eggs to risottos.

The method for quick pickling is so simple.

  1. Combine equal parts water and vinegar. White vinegar, rice vinegar, or cider vinegar are common, but you can experiment with whatever you like.
  2. Add sugar. You don’t need sugar, but it works to balance the flavor. If you like a super tangy pickle, skip it. But you can start with 1/4 cup of sugar for every 2 cups liquid and see what you think.
  3. Add salt. You’ll want about 3/4 teaspoon of salt per 2 cups of liquid. Since you’re not preserving these pickles for ages, you don’t need the higher quantities of salt for the chemistry of it all. Of course, you can more if your pickles aren’t salty enough for your taste.
  4. Heat everything together until the sugar and salt are dissolved, to make a brine. You can do this on a stovetop or even in the microwave. It doesn’t need to boil, just warm enough.
  5. Pour the brine over your to-be-pickled ingredients, which should be cut into portion-sized, if they’re from a bigger veggie or fruit. Ingredients like okra or green beans are okay whole.
  6. Add any seasoning ingredients, like garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, herbs, or whole spices (don’t use ground, or else your pickles with be covered with a grainy coating). Less is more here. The flavors will really intensify in the brine, so be conservative.
  7. Cover and refrigerate the pickles for as long as you can before you start eating them.

You can make quick pickles in a jar, if you like, or you can keep them in a big glass bowl – as long as you can keep it covered.

Ideally, you would leave your pickles to get pickly for at least 12 hours, but for very thin items like sliced onions or radishes, an hour will be long enough to get enough flavor for them to be a useful garnish – though they will get better the longer they pickle.

Because the pickles don’t contain the levels of salt or sugar to be adequately preserved for a very long time, your shelf life on quick-pickles is much shorter, so you’ll want to make them in smaller batches. But that’s sort of the point! Pickle what ingredients you have on hand and then move on to a new ingredient next week.

You can reuse the brine, if you like, but you’ll want to strain out any leftover ingredients before you start over. If for some reason the brine starts to smell off, it’s time to toss it and start fresh.

If you’re wondering what sort of ingredients can be pickled, the answer is YES to basically everything, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Cucumbers (duh). Look for Kirby cucumbers, which will be smaller and sweeter with a more tender skin.
  • Green beans. These are commonly pickled with fresh dill and called “dilly beans.”
  • You can pickle white or red onions, but the pink ones you often see are pickled red onions. The red edges leech out into the vinegar to make the whole brine pink. Slice them thinly or leave them in larger hunks. The thicker they are, the longer they’ll take to pickle. These are great on tacos, salads, and sandwiches.
  • Quick pickle your carrots with garlic and dill, and they’ll taste like you dipped them in ranch dressing.
  • Peaches, or other stone fruit. Pickled peaches are an amazing side for grilled meats, like pork chops.
  • Ramps are only available in the very earliest spring, and pickling them is a great way to preserve them all year long. It mellows out their flavor just a bit, but it also creates a creamy sort of texture that you can’t get anywhere else.

Hot Tip: For the quickest of quick pickles, cover your ingredients with seasoned rice vinegar (you'll find this with other Asian ingredients at the market). This vinegar already contains sugar and salt, making it a brine in a bottle.