We never met a pickle we didn’t like. But there’s a lot more to sink your teeth into than just cucumbers—you can pickle anything from onions to carrots to Brussels sprouts. Ready to try it out at home? Here’s how to pickle vegetables.
What Are Quick-Pickled Vegetables?
The most mouth-puckering homemade pickles are left to marinate in brine for a few days to maximize their flavor. But you can still pickle and eat certain veggies in the same hour if you don’t have a lot of marinating time, depending on their size and how they’re cut. Enter quick-pickled veggies. For instance, whole cucumbers need at least 48 hours to turn acidic, but sliced onions can soak up homemade brine in just 15 minutes if that’s all the time you have. The longer the veggies can soak, the more pickled they’ll be—but don’t sweat it if you need them pronto.
The Benefits of Eating Pickled Vegetables
Essentially all fermented vegetables can help improve gut health, but only if they’re made with a saltwater brine. Vinegar, used for quick-pickling, kills most of the healthy bacteria that’s beneficial to gut health. While they won’t be a cure-all for all your wellness woes, there are still lots of reasons to DIY instead of buying pickles at the supermarket. Processed pickles not only contain vinegar and possible preservatives, but they can also have higher sodium than homemade pickles. Fresh pickles boast probiotics and less bloat-inducing salt. Denny Waxman, a macrobiotic counselor, says naturally-pickled and fermented foods can suppress inflammatory responses to allergies, heart disease and cancer, plus help develop a healthy, efficient immune response.
Pickled cucumbers specifically are touted as potential stress and anxiety reducers and a potential cure for period cramps, much like other probiotic-rich fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi. They’re also hydrating, vitamin-rich (they’re cucumbers, after all) and research from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows they can help regulate blood sugar spikes too.
What Veggies Can I Pickle?
A few hours (or better yet, a couple days) in homemade brine transforms fresh veggies into acidic, salty deliciousness. Here are a few to get you started:
Cucumbers: Kirby cucumbers are our go-to for pickling, but Gherkins or any short cucumber that will fit in a jar work fine, if you’re pickling them whole. Stay away from long English cucumbers. Slicing cucumbers are grown for fresh consumption instead of canning and can result in pickles that are too soft instead of sturdy and crunchy. You may even see specially-labeled pickling cucumbers at the grocery store. Pickle them whole or slice them into chips or spears.
Onions: Red and pearl onions are both popular choices. Red onions go from mild and sweet to refreshing, tangy and crisp (and neon pink) when pickled. Pearl onions are soft and sweet raw but turn mellow and umami-rich post-pickling. Cut them into thin strips or rings so they’re easy to fish out of the jar later.
Radishes: Another hot-pink topper that makes any dish look better. Slice them into thin coins before pickling or pack them into the jar whole if they’re small enough.
Carrots: Julienne or thin-slice them. You can also use a peeler to create thin shreds. Pickle the carrots with daikon and you’ve got banh mi veggies ready for action.
Jalapeños: Instead of tasting straight-up hot like fresh jalapeño peppers, pickled jalapeños are equal parts sour and spicy. Cut them into rounds or halves or pickle them whole, depending on how you’re going to use or eat them. Banana peppers are also a must for heat lovers.
Brussels sprouts: Chop off the stem ends, prune any brown leaves and halve the sprouts before pickling. You can also shred them instead.
Beets: Slice them into quarters or rounds or leave them whole (as long as they’re small enough to pack into the jar).
Cabbage: Let these leafy shreds ferment in seasoned brine for three to ten days and bam: You’ve got sauerkraut.
How Do I Make Pickling Brine?
In general, pickling brine should be around two parts vinegar and one part water. You’re free to adjust to your taste, but don’t skimp *too* much on the vinegar and salt, since they’re what preserve and pickle the vegetables in the first place.
You can use any pale vinegar from white wine to rice to apple cider. Just know that the type will affect the intensity of the brine. For instance, white vinegar will be harsh and strong, so you may need to add more water. But if you’re a sucker for the pucker, you may not need to adjust (or include any water) at all. It comes down to personal preference and the ingredients you have on hand.
Speaking of personal preference, there are a ton of herbs, spices and additional ingredients that you can play with to customize homemade pickled vegetables. Here are a few popular choices that you might have in your kitchen right now:
Crushed red-pepper flakes
There are various sweeteners to use in place of sugar too, like honey or maple syrup.
How to Make Quick Pickles
This recipe fits a heat-safe quart jar or two pint jars. We used Kirby cukes, but feel free to try the same brine on whatever veggies you have. Once you take your first cold, crunchy bite, you’ll never go back to store-bought pickles again.
12 Kirby cucumbers
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 sprig fresh dill
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1¼ cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Tightly pack the cucumbers into a heat-safe jar. If you’re quick-pickling, slice them into coins or spears first so they can soak up as much brine as possible. Add the garlic, mustard seeds and dill.
In a small pot, bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. If you’re really pressed for time, briefly boil the cucumbers in the brine.
Pour the brine over the cucumbers and seal the jar. Let them marinate for as long as you can. If you do have time, refrigerate the jar for at least two days and up to two weeks before opening for best results.