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Quick Pickles: Instant gratification

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Quick Pickles: Instant gratification

Crunchy, crispy, mouth-watering, and full of bright, palate-cleansing flavour, quickles are easier to make than most people realize, and a great way to showcase the flavours of the produce that peaks in late summer and early fall.

If you think making pickles requires patience, it’s high time you made your first batch of quickles. Regular pickles depend on a long bath in strongly salty brine to acquire their characteristic sour flavour. They’re actually a fermented food that relies on the action of friendly bacteria to turn sugar into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetable, and gives it a delicious tang. This process of transformation takes time; the longer you ferment pickles, the more sour they get. Dill pickles take about two weeks. Strongly fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi (yes, they’re pickles, too) can take a month, or even longer.

True quick pickles aren’t fermented at all. Their flavour comes mostly from vinegar, sugar, a little salt, and any spices that may be included. Some quick pickles, like the three-day cucumber ones below, are fermented, but only a very little. Some people call this kind of pickle a half-sour pickle. Whatever you call them, you can make quick pickles from almost any crunchy vegetable you’d think of eating raw.

Instant gratification

The basic method is to thinly slice vegetables, toss them to coat with vinegar, and sprinkle them with sugar and salt. Stir a few times, and after about half an hour, nature and science will have worked their collaborative magic. You can use ordinary white vinegar and ordinary salt and sugar if you like, but this is a perfect use for flavoured salts or sugars, and fancy vinegars if you’ve got any on hand.

A good first try is red onion. Sprinkle a thinly sliced one with red wine vinegar, two large pinches of sugar, and two large pinches of salt. Toss a few times as the onion softens, and in about half an hour, you’ll have a surprisingly delicious pickle that’s great in fish tacos, potato salad, and plain old ham and cheese sandwiches. If you taste a little piece from time to time as the onion’s pickling, you’ll see how its crunchy sharpness is transformed into a silky sweetness in almost no time at all.

Thinly sliced radishes make a particularly tasty quickle, as do thin rounds of carrot. Shredded cabbage loves a quick pickling – and also benefits from being salted and ‘wrung out’ before the addition of sugar and vinegar. There’s a lot of water in cabbage, and pressing some out (with your hands or in a colander) helps keep it crisp. Pickled apple slices are fun to make with kids, who are always pleasantly surprised that a fruit can be anything but sweet. Anyone who likes Mexican food will love a quick pickle of fresh jalapeño – the process tempers their bite somewhat, as long as you remove the seeds. They’re terrific with chile, in summer chowders, and on cheesy scrambled eggs.

3-day cucumber pickles

For a true fermented pickle that’s ready in just a few days, fill a one-quart jar with small, pickling cucumbers, sliced in half or in quarter. Dissolve two tablespoons of salt in a cup of water over low heat on the stove. Pour this brine over the cucumbers in the jar, and top up with water if necessary, so they’re completely covered. Put a lid on the jar, and keep it in a cool, dark place for 3 three days (or up to 5). Voilà.

They’ll keep for a week or so in the fridge. If you like a classic pickle flavour, a spoonful of pickling spice and a clove or two of garlic can go into the jar as well. You can also include your own mix of spices – clove, star anise and allspice berries are wonderful – and other crisp vegetables, like carrot sticks, green beans, cauliflower florets, bell pepper rings, or baby onions. For dill pickles, throw in a small handful of dill fronds.

Watch them quickly disappear

Quickles are really amazing with cheese, especially really creamy ones like Canadian Havarti and Monterey Jack. The contrast in texture and flavour is very satisfying, and the gentle sourness of the pickle makes a cheese’s flavour sing. You can chop quickles up and add them to a mix of mayonnaise and plain yogurt for a home-made tartar sauce. They give a terrific tart crunch to burgers and submarine sandwiches. They’re sublime alongside a simple grilled cheese sandwich. Or toss them in a chef’s salad or Cobb salad that includes shredded or diced Canadian Cheddar or Mozzarella. Quickles don’t really keep much past a day in the fridge, but with such great flavour and so many ways to use them, they’re sure to be gone just as quickly as they came.

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