We should all be making more pickles. They're the ultimate pick-me-up for a sleepy sandwich or braise, and the quick kind can be dashed off on a whim while you're cooking something else. Unlike lacto-fermented pickles, which require carefully calibrated salinity and temperature and days or weeks for wild bacteria to develop the acidity that fends off harmful microbes for long-term storage and supplies their complex tang, quick versions are preserved and flavored by a vinegar brine and refrigeration. They're also a thrifty, low-lift way to get extra mileage out of surplus produce; a bulb of fennel or bunch of radishes will net a small jar's worth of pickles, so you don't have to pickle in bulk to make it worth the effort.
Quick pickling is also incredibly flexible. With the following basic brine formula and method, you can turn just about any produce (fruit, too)—in any amount—into a punchy condiment. Feel free to add seasonings as you like.
1. Prep produce
Trim and cut 1 pound vegetables or fruit into evenly thick pieces for uniform pickling. Depending on porosity of produce and length of pickling, thicker slices might retain a sturdy crunch, while thinner pieces will likely wilt.
2. Mix and boil brine
Combine 1½ cups vinegar; 1½ cups water; 3 tablespoons sugar; 2½ tablespoons kosher salt; and seasonings (e.g., citrus zest, spices, aromatics, herbs), if using, in medium saucepan. Bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. If using seasonings, cover mixture and let steep off heat for 10 minutes.
3. Temper jars
Rinse jars under hot running water until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes; shake dry. Tempering glass helps prevent it from cracking when hot brine is added. You can use any heatproof container with a tight-fitting lid.
4. Marry brine with prepared produce
Tightly pack produce into jars. Return brine to brief boil and ladle over produce to cover (a funnel will help contain brine but is not essential), distributing any aromatics and spices evenly among jars.
5. Cool, cover, wait
Let jars cool completely, cover with lids, and refrigerate until pickles are evenly flavorful. Pickling times will depend on thickness and porosity of produce pieces: Thin-sliced onions and radishes are ready when cool; cucumber chips can take 24 hours; root vegetables might take days.