Quick Fridge Drawer Pickles
I have a wasteful habit of buying just a little bit more than I need. I go to the shop, I intend to buy two bulbs of fennel, I have a rush of spendthrift blood to the brain, I buy three. Home again, my ancestral Scottish frugality asserts its ginger head, I cook two. This, for the mathematically disinclined, leaves one. The result is not that I have just one sad fennel bulb but a whole fridge full of lonely vegetables, friendless and destined - after skulking at the bottom of the crisper till wizened and hairy - for the compost bin, which is, but shouldn’t be, one of the healthiest eaters in our house.
So here we have a typical drawer in my fridge – a small bulb of fennel, one red onion and an old-fashioned warty cucumber bought by my son. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was wrong lest he never shop for me again. We’ve all lived to regret similar moments of micro-management.) There is also half a bunch of coriander, stalks and leaves only, half a head of garlic and a lump of what I’m hoping is ginger and not the mummified remains of a potato.
What to do with this particular mystery box? My answer is to make a couple of quick pickles.
Half a cucumber, a bulb of fennel and half a red onion makes about 600ml of delicious, crunchy vegetable pickles which, for the next week or so I will scatter on top of fish, serve alongside fatty pork or add to summer salads. I'm thinking of a salad of smoked trout, avocado, pickled vegetables and watercress.
Fifteen minutes (I promise) later, I have two delightful, versatile pickles, an empty fridge drawer and a sense of accomplishment probably out of proportion to either.
Quick pickled fennel and cucumber recipe*
(Makes enough for one 600mL jar)
1 small bulb of fennel, end and top cut off
Half a cucumber, peeled and deseeded
Half a red onion
1 cup white vinegar (rice, cider or wine would all work)
Half a cup water
Quarter cup white sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp mixed whole spices (I used fennel and mustard)
2 strips of lemon zest
* You could also use carrot, radishes, cauliflower, celery – any veg that is crisp and can be eaten raw would be fine.
Slice all the vegetables as thinly as you can and poke into a clean jar (if you’re only keeping the pickle for a couple of weeks in the fridge it doesn’t need to be sterilized) – you want it tightly packed.
Bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, spices and lemon zest to boil in a small saucepan. Simmer for five minutes, stirring to make sure the sugar has dissolved.
Pour the pickling liquid on top of the vegetables, making sure it’s settled , that there are no air bubbles – you can stick a knife down the side to help this – and that the vegetables are covered with liquid.
And that’s it. Screw on the lid, allow to cool then refrigerate. You can start eating your pickles from the next day until they’re all gone – in my experience, about four hours.
Thai cucumber relish
(makes about 200ml – enough for four as a side dish)
4 tbs white vinegar (rice, coconut, wine or cider)
4 tbs water
4tbs white sugar
2 cloves of garlic, roughly bruised
Half teaspoon salt
Half a cucumber, peeled, deseeded and diced
Half a bunch of coriander, stalks and leaves separated and chopped
Quarter of a red onion, finely chopped
2cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
Half a small chilli, deseeded and chopped
In a small saucepan bring the vinegar, sugar, salt and water to the boil with the chopped coriander stalks and garlic cloves. Simmer for five minutes, stirring so that that the sugar dissolves.
Mix the cucumber, red onion, coriander stalks, ginger and chilli together in a small bowl. Pour the hot pickling liquid over. Cool then refrigerate, covered. Use within about 5 days.