Eric Akis: Homemade pickles, lickety split

Eric Akis

If you like homemade pickles, but don’t need or have the time to make a pantry full of them, you can make what some call “quick” pickles. You can make them in smaller amounts, you don’t need to seal and process them in canning jars, and you can enjoy them soon after making them. The recipes featured today are in that style.

For the fresh zucchini pickles, uncooked slices of yellow and green zucchini are submerged in sweet and tangy cider vinegar/sugar brine. Whole-grain Dijon mustard, dill and black pepper are added for flavour.

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Once the zucchini slices have soaked in the brine overnight in the refrigerator, they are ready to enjoy. Serve them with anything pickles are served with, such as burgers, sandwiches, ribs and barbecue chicken.

Making the quick pickled beets involves cooking, slicing and flavouring beets with a simmered mixture of red wine vinegar, shallots, spices and bit of sugar.

They can be enjoyed once they’ve cooled, but their flavour does become richer if they are allowed to soak overnight. I like to serve these beets alongside such things as roasts, ham, perogies and meat pies. I also include them among the items I’ll set on a dinner-salad plate.

The last recipe, quick sauerkraut, could also be called quick pickled cabbage. That’s because, unlike traditional sauerkraut, where salted shredded cabbage is allowed to ferment many days, this version sees the cabbage cooked in a vinegar mixture about 30 minutes, and then it’s ready.

The end product, although not fermented, looks and taste like sauerkraut. I like to stuff it inside a sandwich, such as a Reuben, set it on a hot dog, or serve it with such things as German-style sausages, schnitzel, roast pork and pork chops.

Fresh Zucchini Pickles

After an overnight refrigerated soak in an easy-to-make brine, these sweet and tangy pickles, made with raw slices of zucchini, are ready to enjoy.

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus marinating time
Cooking time: a few minutes
Makes: about 3 cups

1 cup cider vinegar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

4 tsp whole-grain Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

• coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

1/3 cup finely diced red bell pepper

2 cups sliced yellow zucchini (see Note)

2 cups sliced green zucchini

Heat vinegar, sugar and salt in a small pot over medium heat until the sugar and salt have just dissolved. Cool mixture to room temperature, and then stir in the mustard, dill, black pepper and bell pepper.

Layer zucchini slices into a tall one-litre jar. Pour the vinegar mixture over the zucchini, firmly pushing down on the slices to ensure they are at least partially submerged. The top slices will sink as they marinate. Seal the jar and refrigerate overnight, at least 12 hours. Enjoy pickles now. Any leftovers will keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Note: I cut the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick slices. 1 medium yellow and 1 medium green zucchini should yield the zucchini needed here. Not overly wide zucchini are best for this recipe. The ones I used were about 1 1/2 inches wide.

Quick Pickled Beets

These sweet- and sour-tasting beets also have hints of spice and the mild onion/garlic flavour of shallot.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: about 50 minutes
Makes: about 3 cups

6 small to medium beets (about 1 lb.)

1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced

3/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup water

3 Tbsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

6 whole peppercorns

• pinch each ground cinnamon and clove

Place beets in a large pot, cover with a generous amount of cold water, then set over medium, medium-high heat. Bring beets to a simmer, then cook until tender, about 40 to 45 minutes. Lift beets out of the water, set on a plate and cool until safe enough to handle.

When beets are cool enough to handle, peel them. Cut each beet into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Place the shallot, vinegar, water, sugar, salt and spices in a small pot, set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil three minutes, and then remove from the heat.

Add the beets to this mixture and let cool to room temperature. Transfer beets to a tall one-litre jar. Seal the jar and refrigerate beets until ready to enjoy. They will keep at least two weeks.

Quick Sauerkraut

This is a quicker-to-prepare version of sauerkraut that can be enjoyed right after it’s made. It is not a fermented product, but it does have a nice sauerkraut taste and texture.

Preparation time: 50 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Makes: about six cups

12 cups tightly packed, thinly shredded green cabbage (see Note)

1 Tbsp coarse sea or pickling salt (do not use fine salt)

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds

1 cup water, plus more, if needed

1/2 cup white vinegar

1 bay leaf

Place cabbage in a large pot (mine was 10-inches wide). Sprinkle in the salt, peppercorns and mustard seeds. With your hands, vigorously toss the cabbage so that it gets evenly coated with the salt. Let cabbage stand 30 minutes.

Add the water, vinegar and bay leaf to the pot. Set pot over medium heat. Cover and cook cabbage, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 30 minutes. (Later in the cooking, add a bit more water to the pot if the cabbage is looking dry on the bottom and/or sticking.)

Remove cabbage from the heat and cool to temperature. Transfer to clean, tight-sealing jars. Seal jars and keep quick sauerkraut until needed. It will keep at least two weeks. This quick sauerkraut also freezes well.

Note: One small to medium, 2 1/4 pound cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered and cored, should yield the amount needed here. I used a hand-held slicer to thinly slice it. A mandolin or food processor will also work.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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