Around these parts, we're always looking to brighten things up on the plate and palate with an emphasis on quickness, freshness, and—above all—flavor. With pickling being all the rage these days, one implement that I've added to my culinary toolbox of late is the quick sugar-salt pickle. It's a great way to transform fresh veggies to punchy accompaniments that can really add some visual and flavorful panache to a dish.
And they couldn't be easier to make. All you need is a sharp knife or mandoline, some sugar and salt, and 20 minutes or so. Just combine sugar and salt in a 3:1 ratio, slice your veggies very thinly, toss them in the mixture, and let them "cure" for 20-30 minutes, tossing them occasionally. Liquid will drain out as they cure, so when you are ready to serve, drain that off and pat them dry with a paper towel. You can mess around with the ratio—anywhere from 2:1 to 4:1—depending on your tastes or ingredient. For instance, with apples you might want to use less sugar.
Here I took carrots, fresh chiles, cucumbers, radishes, beets, and apples. It took me about 15 seconds to make the sugar-salt cure and about 5 minutes to prep the vegetables. This is a fantastic way to use up a straggler or two in your crisper drawer. As for the amounts necessary to make enough for a small bowlful, I used a couple of beets, 3 radishes, a third of a cucumber, half an apple, a couple of chiles, and a carrot. Really, whatever you've got lying around that you think would taste good pickled can work.
You can use them in salads or a rice or pasta dish, or (like here) they make a fantastic accompaniment to grilled meats or fish. This is just a simple piece of seared and sliced albacore, and I used a variety of the pickled items to replace the traditional capers in the dish. A quick squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil, and it's done in a half hour with only about 10 minutes of actual work, including searing the tuna. It's actually my favorite kind of dish: fresh and flavorful and with a visual stunning flair that totally belies how easy it is to make.