If I had to characterize the past week in two words, they would be: pepper problems. These peppers gave me all sorts of trouble! I’d made these quick-pickled jalapeños a couple of times already, but these locally grown peppers were way spicier than the others. Just one little nibble of raw sliced pepper made me feel like one of those silly, red-faced cartoon characters with steam shooting out of his ears.
Then, when I was rinsing the sliced peppers under running water in an attempt to cool down their spiciness, the pepper fumes made me cough-cough-cough-cough-cough. I had to use my shirt as a nose mask to get through it. So beware pepper asphyxiation. (I know I sound dramatic right now, but I’m serious.) I’m still recommending them because none of my other batches gave me such trouble.
The final result, though, is totally irresistible. Fresh, spicy, with a light sweetness thanks to the bell pepper and honey, and a nice, crisp crunch. You’ll see in the photos that I made a control batch with plain distilled white vinegar and no bell peppers, but I so prefer the gourmet version with honey that I’m going to insist that you go with that one.
Really, it was only a matter of time after pickling radishes that I turned to peppers. I’ve always loved pickled jalapeños, but lately I’ve been frustrated by store-bought varieties that are sliced too thick (they overwhelm the other flavors) and taste way too salty (again, overwhelming the other flavors). Not to mention, many pickled jalapeños contain food coloring and preservatives in addition to vinegar, which I’d just as well avoid.
If you want to make sure your peppers aren’t crazy spicy, buy big ones so it’s easier to remove the seeds and membranes before slicing. That’s where the heat is concentrated. You might also want to avoid more mature peppers with striations on the sides, which are rumored to indicate hotter peppers. If you taste a little sliver of a few of your jalapeños and none are crazy hot, you probably don’t need to worry about getting crazy hot pickles.
All that said, pickling the peppers with vinegar, salt and a little bit of honey tones them down quite a bit! If you come across a bunch of jalapeños at the farmers’ market this weekend, you can bottle them up for later with this simple refrigerator pickles recipe.
- ½ pound jalapeños (choose larger jalapeños for less spicy pickles)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar)
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons honey or sugar of choice
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- First, prepare your peppers: Wear gloves to prevent your fingers from feeling burned. For less spicy pickles, use a paring knife to remove the jalapeño membranes and seeds before slicing (this is a lot of work, so I just pulled out the larger membranes from my sliced pickles). Slice the pickles thin with a mandoline or chef's knife. If you're still concerned about the spice level of the pickles, run the sliced jalapeños under running water in a colander to try to knock off any remaining seeds. (Beware, those pepper fumes made me cough.) Slice off the top of the bell pepper and remove the seeds and membranes. Chop the bell pepper.
- Combine the prepared peppers and smashed garlic in a 28-ounce (1.75 pints) or larger glass jar. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, honey and salt. Bring the mixture close to a boil on the stove, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sweetener into the liquid. Remove from heat and carefully pour the liquid over the peppers. Use a butter knife to pock down the peppers so they all fit and there aren't any hidden air pockets.
- Let the pickles cool to room temperature in the jar, then screw on a lid and refrigerate the pickles. Depending on how thinly you sliced the peppers, they could be ready to eat immediately or might need a couple of days in the refrigerator before they taste fully pickled (just sample one every now and then to find out!). They are best when relatively fresh, but keep well for at least a month.
Make it vegan: Substitute maple syrup, agave nectar or sugar for the honey.