In the world of summer barbecues, the pickle hardly plays a starring role.
Truth to be told, "hold the pickles" is my standard order, as I am not a fan of pickles on a cheeseburger, nor do I particularly care for pickle juice leaking onto my sandwich bread at a deli.
But homemade quick pickles made from a variety of fresh veggies, not just cucumbers, are a completely different story! Quick pickles are made in minutes, not days, so the veggies stay crisper than store-bought versions. And since you control the ingredients, you can customize your pickles to make them as tart, sweet, sour, spicy or salty as you want.
Make one batch, and you'll immediately know how to adjust the flavors to your liking. You can even make a variety of pickling flavors easily — add extra smashed garlic cloves and red pepper flakes to the green beans and bump up the vinegar to give cauliflower floret pickles extra pucker. You can even pickle fruit — sliced lemon, pineapple chunks, halved cherry tomatoes all make tangy toppings for grilled meats and spicy dishes, for example.
The homemade pickle is a far more versatile actor than its commercially-produced cousin. Try serving a variety of lightly-pickled veggies with dip instead of the expected crudité.
Imagine a veritable mini-buffet of brightly colored pickled veggies in mason jars set up next to the condiments at your next barbecue. Bring along a jar or two to someone else's party this summer as a healthy hostess gift.
Or, just keep a jar or two in your fridge for snacking. The basic recipe is easy enough to keep your fridge stocked, too. Just six simple pantry ingredients are needed: vegetable, vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic and an herb or spice. Which means homemade pickles can probably be on your menu tonight without even a trip to the store.
6-ingredient quick pickles
Start to Finish: 15 minutes
½ cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
6 smashed garlic cloves
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or other spice or herb, such a mustard seed, celery seed, or dill)
2 cups vegetables, approximately, trimmed to fit in two 1-pint mason jars
2 mason jars (1 pint size)
Heat the vinegar, salt and sugar in a saucepan with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil and stir until salt and sugar dissolve, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile place the garlic and red pepper flakes at the bottom of the mason jars, and add the trimmed vegetables. Pour the boiling pickling liquid into the jars to cover the vegetables completely. (You should have enough water, but if not, boil a little extra plain water and add.) Cover the jars and let the vegetables sit until cool enough to eat. Store in refrigerator. Best if eaten within a week.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."