When it comes to making pickles, I often think big: pounds of produce, half-gallon jars for fermenting, multiple batches of quart and pint jars for canning, and hours spent cleaning, preparing, and processing. But when it comes to eating pickles, a few often go a long way: a couple of Definitely Dilly Beans in a Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary, a few slices of Better Bread-and-Butter Pickles to serve with or stuff in Gorgeous Grilled Cheese, a handful of Cumin-Spiced Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles to accompany Indian dishes.
As I’ve already shared this month, some pickles are best in both small batches and small doses. This makes them ideal condiments to pack quickly and easily into small jars, store in your fridge, and dip into as needed. Two I always try to have on hand are pickled garlic and nasturtium “capers.”
1/2 cup white wine vinegar (5% acidity)
1/2 teaspoon canning salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Remove just the outer skins from the heads of garlic and break apart the cloves. Gather a medium saucepan, a large bowl, and a colander that will fit deep within the bowl. Fill the saucepan with water and bring to a rolling boil; fill the bowl with cold water. Drop the unpeeled cloves into the heated water, return to a boil, and blanch for 30–60 seconds. Immediately drain off the hot water, capturing the cloves in the colander, and then plunge the colander into the bowl of cold water. When the cloves are cool enough to handle, remove the colander full of cloves from the bowl and slip off the skins. Pack the peeled garlic cloves into a half-pint jar, leaving at least 1/2-inch headspace.
In the medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, salt, and sugar; heat just to a boil, stirring, until the salt and sugar dissolve. Pour the vinegar brine over the cloves, screw on a lid, and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Move the jar to the refrigerator and let sit at least 2 weeks before using. Makes 1 half-pint jar.
Tips & Tricks
- The blanching trick here serves two great purposes: it softens the hard garlic slightly, making it easier for the vinegar to penetrate, and it lets you easily remove the papery skins without crushing or otherwise damaging the cloves.
- The acidity of the vinegar does wonderful things to garlic, converting the compound allicin, which gives garlic its harsh bite, to mellower compounds the longer it sits. In contrast, dry-stored garlic loses moisture and becomes more pungent over time.
- A clove or two of garlic goes in each jar of almost every other vegetable I pickle, along with many other aromatics, so I prefer to keep my solo garlic in a simple brine. But many flavors can be added to the jar, which is a particularly nice touch for gifts. Some of my favorite additions are a whole dried chili; a pinch of whole coriander, cumin, dill, and/or mustard seeds; a few whole peppercorns; and a sprig of fresh herb, such as rosemary or thyme.
- I keep this pickled garlic in the fridge rather than processing just a jar or two. If you’re making too many jars for cold storage, this pickled garlic can be safely canned in a boiling water bath. Don’t let the brine cool; ladle it over the garlic in hot half-pint jars just after it boils, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process for 10 minutes, plus your altitude adjustment.
- The mellow, creamy flavor of pickled garlic has a range of uses. Dice it to add to egg dishes, soups, and salads, or slice it thinly to lay atop a pizza, along with nasturtium capers (see below), for a bright bite. Once you finish the jar, the vinegar will be infused with garlic flavor and can be used in salad dressings.
Twice as Tasty
Among the fruits and vegetables I wish I could grow in my northwestern Montana garden are avocados, figs, mangos, sweet potatoes, olives, and capers. Some of these I break down and buy, but for others I play with ways to substitute produce I can grow. Pickled capers were long on my “must buy” list. Then I discovered the various ways to eat nasturtiums.
If you aren’t growing nasturtiums in your garden or in a pot on your front step, add these bright, cheerful flowers to your seed list next year. Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum spp.) grow readily and prolifically from seed. The more you harvest, the stronger they become—which is fabulous, because every part of the nasturtium plant is edible. The peppery leaves can be slivered into pita or mixed into salads, while the slightly milder petals are colorful atop a freshly made dip or rolled into a compound butter. The young, fiery seeds are fabulous substitutes for capers.
Pickled Nasturtium Seeds
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup nasturtium seeds
3/4 cup white wine vinegar (5% acidity)
2 teaspoons sugar
Harvest as many nasturtium seeds as you can at one time, choosing only soft, green pods, and place them in a half-pint jar. In a small saucepan, bring the salt and water just to a boil, stirring, until the salt dissolves. Pour the brine over the seeds. Let cool, and then cover with a lid and let soak at room temperature for 3 days. Repeat this process as you harvest until you have 1/2 cup of nasturtium seeds.
After 3 days, drain the soaked nasturtium seeds, rinse the jar, and replace the seeds. In a small saucepan, heat and dissolve the sugar in the vinegar as you would for Pickled Garlic. Pour the hot brine over the nasturtium seeds, screw on the lid, and let sit at room temperature until cool. If you’re harvesting in stages, simply open the jar and add later soaked batches as they are ready. Store in the refrigerator, waiting at least 3 days before using. Makes about 1 half-pint jar.
Tips & Tricks
- Nasturtiums set seed if you leave the blooms on the plant until the petals fall off. Wait a few days, and you’ll see three-part seedpods form. Pick the pods while they are young, green, and soft; older yellowish pods can be left to shrivel slightly and harden and then saved for planting next season.
- Unless you grow a lot of nasturtiums, you’ll be hard pressed to gather 1/2 cup in one harvest. I collect and soak the seeds as they set, making the brine after the first harvest. With each successive harvest, I soak the seeds and add them to the brine until the jar is full, ensuring the nasturtium seeds are still fully covered by the vinegar.
- Nasturtium pods release a sulfur smell when they’re first brined, and the multiday soak helps to reduce the stink. It also brings any flower debris to the surface and mellows the sharp bite of the seeds. If you find a lot of debris or the smell to be overpowering, drain the seeds and re-cover them with fresh saltwater brine each of the 3 soaking days.
- As with Pickled Garlic, I prefer a straight brine that absorbs the peppery flavor of the nasturtium capers, but other seasonings can be added. A simply bay leaf and thyme sprig give a light tone, whereas a stick of horseradish root and a few cloves and nutmeg pieces seriously spice up the jar. Use pickled nasturtium seeds wherever you would use capers.
Like what you’ve learned here? Each month’s posts are wrapped up in a downloadable, printable PDF version that you can get delivered straight to your inbox by becoming a Twice as Tasty subscriber. You can also sign up to receive weekly email notification of the latest posts on the blog. Click here to subscribe.