One of the challenges of peak-season produce is that you suddenly have a lot of it for a relatively short amount of time. Right now, we're drowning in asparagus, snap peas, and rhubarb, but it won't be long before it all vanishes from the market as tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers have their moment in the sun...literally. Of course, as people all over the world have known for millennia, there are all sorts of preservation methods to make short-lived foods last a lot longer. Fermentation and curing can be some of the most transformative and rewarding ways to do so, but they also take time and attention, which we don't always have. Enter the quick pickle.
Made by soaking produce in a mixture of vinegar with salt and sugar, quick pickles are a fast and easy way to buy many more days of life for vegetables. At their simplest, the brine is just that—vinegar, salt, and sugar (usually mixed with some water to cut the strength of the vinegar to palatable levels). For an example, check out Kenji's tasty quick cucumber pickles, which take mere minutes to make and are fantastic on sandwiches and burgers.
Still, because the method is so easy, it's fun to play with additional flavors. I've come up with three incredibly easy recipes here, each designed around a different type of spring produce—asparagus, rhubarb, and snap peas—adding aromatics to the brine that work well with each one. Feel free to adapt these as you see fit, there's no need to follow the recipe verbatim: For example, if you don't have the star anise called for in the rhubarb recipe, just leave it out, or add another spice instead, like a bit of cinnamon stick.
You can also play with the ratio of salt, sugar, and water. I like my pickles tart, but if you want yours sweeter, by all means add more sugar or water to taste. These recipes aren't designed for canning, so you don't need to worry about things like whether the acidity level is safe or not. Instead, you can just keep these pickles in sealed containers in your fridge, where they'll last at least a few weeks, eating them as you see fit. I like chopping them up and tossing them into salads, adding them to sandwiches, or just snacking on them alongside proteins, like a roast chicken or fish.
Here are the specifics on each one:
Pickled Asparagus With Tarragon and Shallots
For this pickle, I wanted to infuse the asparagus with flavors that remind me of France—tarragon and shallot.
I started with a base of white wine vinegar, mixed with an equal part water (I'll be using that 1:1 vinegar to water ratio throughout), sweetened with just a bit of sugar and seasoned with salt. I brought that to a boil to dissolve the solids, then tossed in a bunch of tarragon and a thickly sliced shallot and let it infuse for several minutes.
I left the asparagus stalks whole here (minus the fibrous ends that I trimmed off), since I thought that would be the most elegant presentation for these pickles. That does present a small challenge in terms of fully submerging them in the brine, which I solved by laying the stalks in a baking dish. Once the brine had cooled just a bit, I poured it over the asparagus and let it soak until it hit room temperature.
Then I transferred the stalks to a large mason jar and poured the brine on top. Into the fridge they go!
Pickled Rhubarb With Lemongrass and Ginger
Rhubarb's beautiful pink color inspired me to use red wine vinegar here, to play up that color even more. Then I infused it with Asian flavors, including lemongrass, ginger, and star anise, plus some black peppercorns for a little spicy pungency. It's naturally very tart, so I increased the amount of sugar to balance it out (it's still pretty tart, so you can add even more sugar if you want a sweeter pickle). I also opted for light brown sugar for a little more depth of flavor, which works with these more robust aromatics, though you could substitute plain granulated sugar or raw sugar if you don't have brown sugar on hand.
Once again, I started by boiling my brine to dissolve the sugar and salt. In this case I let it simmer for about 5 minutes with the lemongrass, ginger, and spices to really bring out their flavors.
Then I let the brine cool just a bit before combining it with the rhubarb; if it goes on too hot, the rhubarb can overcook and become mushy, so a few minutes of cool-down time are helpful. In this case, I strained the brine when I poured it onto the rhubarb, since I figured it'd be annoying to have to pick out all the bits of lemongrass.
Then I let it stand until cooled.
Here's a trick I picked up from Kenji's quick cucumber pickle recipe: Laying paper towels on top of the pickles in the brine helps fully submerge them and guarantees that they pickle more evenly. I used it in all these pickle recipes.
Pickled Snap Peas With Mint
I can eat my way through heaps of fresh raw snap peas with no trouble, so it's easy to forget how good they can be in other preparations. Plus, because they're so sweet, they play really well in a vinegar brine—that sweet-sour thing, ya know? And since peas and mint are such a natural combo, I thought they'd work well in a pickle, too.
I made my brine this time with rice vinegar, which has a delicacy about it that I thought would be a good idea, since I didn't want the peas to be overwhelmed by the pickle flavors. I also added some fennel seeds, for a really delicate anise flavor.
I went through the same steps as above, letting the brine cool just a bit before pouring it onto the peas.
They lose some of their green vibrancy in the pickle, which is to be expected, but they gain so much flavor!
Next time you're at the farmers market, maybe buy a little extra produce—with these pickle recipes, you know it won't go bad before you get through it all.