While we're not big fans of the word "zesty", we do have to acknowledge it as an important term in world of pickles. It means they have some garlic and heat - and that's how we like them. The Vlasic zesty dill was our pickle of choice - that is until we started making our own. Pictured above is our latest batch.
Of course it all starts with the cucumbers. You need to use really firm, fresh, un-waxed cucumbers - straight from the garden or farmer's market is best. Pickling cucumbers are smaller than normal, just 3 or 4 inches long. This ends up being important when you are trying to fit them into jars.
Our pickling spice blend consists of plenty of fresh garlic, dill seeds, whole coriander seeds, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, hot chile pepper flakes and bay leaves. The first time we made pickles we didn't add the pepper flakes or dill seed and while they were good, they were mostly too sweet. Since then we have adjusted our recipe to create the kick we like.
To get things started, all the seasonings get dumped into a sauce pan along with a 50-50 mixture of water and distilled white vinegar, along with some sugar and salt.
While the pickling brine simmers for a few minutes, I pack in as many cucumbers and fresh chiles as I can into clean jars, trying to get a nice, snug fit. We throw in whatever ripe, fleshy chile peppers we have growing out on our patio. Red or green - they both work.
Finally, the hot brine gets poured into the jars along with all the spices:
After a few weeks in the refrigerator, these cucumbers will be transformed into lovely pickles - full of salt and vinegar twang, garlicky heat, and with that perfect crunch when you bite into them. And the chiles aren't just for flavoring - they are quite tasty in their own right.
Super simple - they only takes about twenty minutes of hands-on time and are well worth the effort. They are great on a burger, alongside a sandwich, or just as a quick snack:
This is the last of last summer's batch. But not to worry, we'll soon have more...
Spice mixture makes about 5 cups of brine - more than enough for 2 quart jars filled with pickles and peppers. To decide how much you need, place your clean cucumbers and chiles snugly into your jars. Fill the jars with water, then pour off the water and measure the amount you used. Adjust the quantity of pickling brine if required.
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons dill seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon hot chile pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
2 bay leaves
8 to 10 3-4 inch pickling cucumbers (as many as will fit snugly into two 1-quart jars)
some jalapeño or serrano chiles
Carefully clean your cucumbers of any dirt or grit. Pack them into clean jars, filling the spaces with a few chiles. If desired, measure the amount of brine needed as described above.
Add everything else to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Pour the hot liquid and spices over the cucumbers and chiles, filling the jars nearly to the top and distributing the spices evenly.
Seal each jar with a clean lid, let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. Pickles will be ready in about 3 weeks, but will improve after a few months.