When most people hear "pickle," they think "cucumber," but you can pickle just about any vegetable, including extra summer squash or zucchini (even the ones that got too big; just peel and trim out the seeds), extra green beans, asparagus, carrots, or cauliflower.
Pickled vegetables taste amazing, and they also introduce healthy probiotics into your diet, turning your healthy produce into superfoods. Eating more probiotic foods helps your digestion, and emerging research suggests these foods can fight weight gain and ward off heart disease. Probiotics live in raw, unfiltered vinegars, and although heating the vinegar to make some pickle recipes can kill off the healthy bugs, I've included a few recipes that don't require this step.
The quickest way to turn extra produce into something special is to make refrigerator pickles, which is essentially adding chopped veggies to a jar of vinegar and spices, and popping them in the fridge for a week or two (that's the best way to keep probiotics in your food, too). But with just a little extra work, you can make some extra-special treats from things you might never have considered—even the weeds growing in your front yard.
photo: (cc) katerha/flickr
Here are six weird and wonderful pickles to try.
Pickled Sliced Onions
Not the tiny pickled onions your maiden aunt swilled in her martinis, these savory condiments are classic British pub fare, perfect on a burger with a slice of robust cheddar cheese or on all sorts of hearty sandwiches.
2 pounds large organic onions (I especially like sweet onions, but red onions are good, too)
3 cups malt vinegar (or your choice of vinegar)
1 1/2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
1. Simmer the spices in the vinegar for 20 minutes and strain them out.
2. Peel and slice the onions very thinly, then separate the slices into rings and blanch them in a pot of boiling water for just 20 seconds. Strain.
3. When the onions are cool enough to handle, pack them firmly into clean glass jars. Add the warm strained vinegar, using enough to completely cover the onions. Put lids on the jars and store them in the refrigerator for at least a week to develop their flavor. They'll keep for at least a year as long as the onions are completely covered with vinegar.
Pickled Nasturtium Pods, aka Mock Capers
Nasturtiums are beautiful plants—and delicious, too. The spicy leaves add zip to salads, and the slightly milder flowers make cheerful garnishes or can be stuffed with savory fillings. But this workhorse of the edible garden has one more trick up its sleeve: If you don't pick the flowers, the young seedpods can be turned into a very close approximation of capers.
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 handful young nasturtium pods
Put the salt and vinegar in a half-pint jar and add the buds (the liquid should cover them). Store in the fridge, adding more pods as you find them. Keep adding pods as long as there is room and enough vinegar to cover them. Scoop out as many pods as you need when a recipe calls for capers. These will store until next summer, when you can start a fresh batch.
Onion & nasturtium images: Rob Cardillo