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It's just a tiny batch of pickles, no big dill

Stacey Ballis
August 06, 2018

CSA boxes are like your own personal episode of Chopped. You have no idea what is going to be in there. The farmers are simply going to give you whatever is best that week, and vegetables do not care if you were hoping for something else, ripe is ripe, when they are ready, you are on their schedule. Broccoli isn’t going to just hang out and wait because you’d rather have spinach this week. Kohlrabi is resigned and stoic, bring it on, no one knows what to do with me anyway. Kale is all needy and has horrible FOMO and wants you to love it every flipping week, like, “Here I am again! Did you miss me?”

Last week my brother-by-choice John texted with a lovely offer. He was going to be traveling, and instead of canceling that week’s CSA box, if I wanted to go pick it up, it was mine for the taking. When we got our little present home and opened it up, I could hear Ted Allen announcing each item as I retrieved it from the box. Baby potatoes, fresh Borlotti beans, tiny heads of hardneck garlic. We got rainbow Swiss chard, breakfast radishes, and four large cucumbers. And there at the bottom, six Japanese eggplants and a bunch of baby purple carrots. Our fridge runneth over.

The box was inspiring, I’m not a huge eggplant fan, but now I had six of them to contend with, so I had to figure out what to make with them. (Thanks Anita Lo for the Sichuan eggplant recipe, it was delicious!). Three different kinds of cucumber salad went into the rotation. All week long there were new fun dishes on our table, the box was a wild success of inspiration.

And then, yesterday, I saw them: those gorgeous tiny carrots, stuffed way back in the drawer, starting to go floppy. I quickly revived them best I could in a cold-water soak, and then trimmed and peeled them. What I was left with was a handful of tiny carrots, enough for a nice snack for one person, but not really a grand abundance. Not enough for a dinner side dish. And while I could have just eaten them out of hand, they had lost their pep.

Pickling to the rescue. I love a quick pickle, especially pickled carrots, with their sweet and sour vibe. They're perfect with cocktails, and while usually I’m making a generous batch for entertaining, looking at my little fistful of wee carrot babies, I thought, if I can mini-batch jam, I can mini-batch pickle.

This is not so much a recipe as a technique to keep in your back pocket for just such occasions. Prep your vegetables by cleaning, peeling if appropriate, and cutting into whatever size or shape seems right to you. Fill a measuring cup. How much you got? Half of that volume is how much vinegar you need. I buy both white wine and plain white vinegar by the gallon, but if you like red wine vinegar, have at it. I prefer not to pickle with balsamic vinegars, both because of the muddy color and they are too sweet for me.

How much vinegar did you measure out? You’ll need between equal and half that much sugar or honey, depending on how sweet you want your pickle. I love honey with carrots or beets or other root vegetables, but plain granulated sugar works just fine for everything if you don’t have honey lying around.

Dump your vinegar in a pan and heat until simmering, then add the sugar or honey in installments, tasting carefully until you get a balance that seems right to you, and stir until it is dissolved. I usually measure out an equal amount to the vinegar and add in fourths till I like the taste. Toss in a generous pinch of salt. Want some of those great spicy floaty bits? Use what you have on hand. Both yellow and brown mustard seed are good additions. Peppercorns of any hue, naturally. If you’re fancy toss in some juniper berries, or a cinnamon stick. A bit of red pepper for heat if you roll that way. Have some fun with the spices.

Once you’ve zhuzhed up your brine to your liking, add in your prepped vegetables and cook just till crisp-tender, for baby carrots, maybe only three minutes. Just poke 'em with a fork until they feel slightly less firm than raw, but still have good snap. Take the pan off the heat and find a good container for your pickles. Again, this is not for long term preserving, so no sterilized jars needed, just find something big enough that is heat-safe. Tupperware is fine.

With a slotted spoon or tongs transfer the vegetables to your container then pour over the hot brine to just cover, discarding any that is left over. Let cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge for up to a month. If you’re entertaining, strain your pickled vegetables and toss with some fresh chopped herbs before serving, like dill, cilantro, chervil, parsley or tarragon.

This works great with all sorts of veggies, including garlic, onion, beets, radishes, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, jicama, cauliflower, celery—let your imagination and your crisper drawer be your guide.

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