If you think making pickles requires patience, it’s high time you made your first batch of quick pickles—quickles. Regular pickles depend on a long bath in strongly salted brine to acquire their characteristic tangy 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 acidity. 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 (get the recipe 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.
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 the perfect opportunity to bust out those flavoured salts, sugars, and fancy vinegars—if you’ve got any on hand.
A good vegetable to jump-start your quickles journey 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 also loves a quick pickling.
Shredded cabbage benefits from being 'wrung out' before the addition of sugar and vinegar. To do so, simply season the cabbage with salt and place it in a colander with a dish underneath. Let it sit for 20 minutes before continuing the recipe. You'll get a crispier end result.
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 quartered. 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 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 marvelous 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.