It’s pickling time!!! Homemade picked everything! Today is all about a super easy basic pickling liquid that’s perfect for healthy and delicious pickled red onion, chard stem, and baby fennel recipes and so many more!
There just aren’t many things that are better to have on hand than things that have been pickled fermented and cultured. (As I recently mentioned when discussing easy homemade kefir)! Simple, cheap, and so rewarding, these foods pack a healthy punch with an incredible flavor that make absolutely everything more fun and exciting to eat. Add them to soups, sandwiches, salads, and even pizzas and you’ll be amazed by the complexity they add to every dish. (You should try these pickled chard and fennel recipes in everything! Even blended into salad dressings and spreads!) Plus, there are all of these health benefits to pickled foods that are even better when you make them yourself.
As with all foods, pickled things can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. There is absolutely no end to the fun you can have with your pickling liquids. You can add chili flakes and garlic, pickling spices (your own or one of the many blends out there), you can try cumin, coriander, and, fennel seeds, star anise, cinnamon, or anything else your heart desires! Ginger, citrus, and peppercorns add an amazing layer to your homemade pickles.
However, for those just starting out, you can totally use one absolutely basic pickling liquid for many, many different types of ingredients and just let your produce shine through. That’s what I’m going to show you today. One simple pickling liquid that will work incredibly well for just about all of your homemade pickles. Today’s basic pickling liquid is great for a ton of different pickles, not just for chard and fennel recipes.
Want to get creative? After you bring your liquid to a boil, turn it off, add your fun extras and let them just sit for about thirty minutes. Then strain them out, bring your liquid back up to a boil, and pour the liquid over your produce. You can, of course, also just leave your spices right in the liquid if you want! Just make sure you like those flavors, because they will continue to get stronger for a little while.
In the garden, my fennel is going crazy, so I wanted to pull a bunch of it out so that the remaining fennel would have more room to grow big and fat. I was considering all kinds of fennel recipes! Pickled fennel has a wonderful licorice-y flavor and is absolutely delicious in salads, salad dressings, and on sandwiches, so making a jar of pickled fennel was a no-brainer. I pulled out the smaller baby fennel to make room for the others, so they are what’s in the picture. You can definitely pickle mature fennel, just cut it into strips or wedges first. If you are using baby fennel, cut any large pieces in half or in quarters so that the liquid can do its thing. Don’t be afraid to add the stems as well if you have them! They have great flavor and hold up really well to being pickled. Fennel is one of the many plants that you can use all of the parts of in your fennel recipes, so don’t let all of that good flavor end up in the trash. Not just the bulbs, but the stems, fronds, and the seeds, and pollen are fantastic, which is one of the reasons they’re so rewarding to grow. (Another reason is that here in California, fennel grows so easily it’s sometimes considered an invasive species. You can find it growing wild along the roads and highways.) A year or two ago, while testing and tasting everything in the garden, I discovered that green (immature) fennel seeds are also absolutely delicious! They’re fantastic on their own, plus they make seriously nice tea.
It’s also time to clear out my chard now that the weather is warming up. The next round of backyard garden produce needs room! The chard in the garden is just starting to try to bolt, so it makes sense to cut it down and make room for some new plants. While many people have a ton of favorite recipes for chard leaves, the stems often get overlooked, which is a huge shame. Chard stems taste absolutely amazing raw (I worked for a very famous chef who just loves raw chard stems; they remind her of her childhood. She likes to reach out and grab a few stems when chard is on the menu and we’re prepping mountains of it, snacking on them as she passes through the kitchen): they’re light, delicate, and watery like celery, but with a fresh and bright flavor. There are way too many great ingredients out there that end up in the trash! I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. Keep tasting everything! You might find that you just love something that you would never have thought about otherwise.
A lot of pickles follow the same basic technique.
- Clean your ingredient (trim it if it’s too big/thick) and put it in a nonreactive container (glass is great)
- Bring your pickling liquid to a boil
- Pour it over your ingredient, making sure that your ingredient is totally submerged. (You might need to cover it or weigh it down to keep it below the liquid.)
- Let it cool, and keep it in your refrigerator.
That’s it! Super simple.
Now, there are plenty of recipes that don’t follow these steps exactly, but so many of them do. If you have really strongly flavored ingredients like garlic and ginger, you frequently want to boil them before you pickle them. There are also recipes that call for salting your ingredient first to draw out the excess moisture and bitterness. However, for fresh produce like chard stems, baby fennel, onions, shallots, radishes, celery, carrots, beans, and so on, that’s totally unnecessary. Just bring your liquid to a boil and pour it over!
Basic Pickling Liquid for Homemade Pickles
(Perfect for Red Onion, Chard, and Fennel Recipes, Plus Others!)
- 3 cups vinegar (rice wine, champagne, or any other vinegar or combination of vinegars you like)
- 3 cups water
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup salt (I prefer Kosher Diamond)
- Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, and make sure the sugar and salt are dissolved completely.
- Pour over your ingredients in a non-reactive container (glass is perfect), making sure your ingredients are completely submerged (weigh them down if necessary).
- Allow to cool. Keep in refrigerator.
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