Refrigerator Pickles

I don’t advocate small-batch canning, but I am a fan of quick and easy pickling that fills your refrigerator one jar at a time. If your only experience with pickling is opening a store-bought jar, then refrigerator vinegar pickles will convert you to homemade. Even if you grew up in a household that put up shelves of pickled vegetables every summer, like I did, refrigerator pickles have surprising benefits.

The disadvantage of refrigerator pickles—that they aren’t sealed in heated jars and thus shelf stable—can be an advantage in freshness and crispness. Small-space gardeners or CSA members can put up a jar at a time as produce ripens. Even expansive gardeners can use fridge pickles to test new flavor combinations. Cucumbers are ideal refrigerator pickles, because they soften so quickly when heated. You should still only use pickling cucumbers; the thick-skinned slicing cucumbers you find in grocery stores and even lemon cucumbers are really only useful as fresh pickles. After years of pasteurizing summer squash, I’ve switched from the canner to the fridge to keep the pickles’ crunch.
Learn to make Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles and Cumin-Spiced Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles

Freezing Herbs

If I could have only one garden, it would teem with herbs. Many of these easy-to-grow plants survive any climate or soil and are among the first shoots to appear each spring. Most are either perennials that return without fail or annuals that self-seed so readily one seed packet produces a perpetual crop. Herbs thrive on usage; the more you snip and pluck, the happier they become. Although the plants are rarely showy, a garden that contains herbs and edible flowers such as nasturtium, calendula, and viola is as delicious to look at as it is to harvest from.

Although fresh is best, herbs are easily saved for meals year-round. A little goes a long way, so even a couple of balcony pots will likely produce enough for use throughout the season. Many herb savers dehydrate their harvest, but some herbs, like chives, taste better when frozen.
Learn how to freeze chives and make Herb Butter

Dips with Yogurt

Homemade cheese and yogurt are delicious not just on their own but also when featured or even a footnote in other recipes. Bring a tray of homemade dips, cheese, and sourdough bread to a potluck or party (or house concert), and guests immediately compliment your tasty contribution. Then when someone asks what’s in the dip, say, “homemade yogurt”; eyes brighten, jaws drop, and people dig back into the bowl. At least, that’s my experience.

I’ve long been a fan of tzatziki, and it’s among my favorite ways to showcase homemade yogurt. A tangy fresh batch makes the dip pop—so much so that I cut back on the lemon juice. Although traditionally made with sheep’s or goat’s milk, draining a cow’s milk yogurt until it’s thick works beautifully. Just a tablespoon or two of the same thickened yogurt gives a surprising creaminess to other dips, especially ones featuring beans.
Learn to make Tzatziki and Asian White Bean Dip

Chowders

I’m a fan of thick, hearty soups. Although I make miso or hot and sour soup when I’m down with a bug, I gravitate toward soups that you know are filling just by looking in the pot.

Last week, I mentioned a range of thickeners that can be added to the pot. My favorites are flour-and-butter roux, as in 30-Minute Cherry Tomato Soup. and potatoes. Potatoes have the advantage of acting as both main ingredient and thickener and can be the prominent—or even the primary—ingredient; they can be added to the pot precooked or raw. Like tomatoes, potatoes are mostly water, but the portion that is solid is almost entirely starch. As you heat potatoes, the starch softens, expands, and gels, making the soup more viscous. Keep this in mind when you’re preparing a potato-thickened soup: Potato starch gels at a lower temperature than flour. The result is a far thicker soup. Learn to make Hearty Corn Chowder and Boozy Potato Chowder