Asparagus pickles are easy to make and a delicious way to preserve this springtime vegetable when it is at its seasonal best and cheapest.
The key to making really fabulous asparagus pickles is to use only the freshest asparagus spears. This means ones you've grown yourself, or that you buy from local farmers when they are in season. But even with out-of-season supermarket asparagus, these pickles are still good. Choose thick spears - the thin ones tend to get mushy during canning.
Try using these flavorful spears instead of olives or celery sticks in your next bloody mary. They are also terrific served alongside Middle Eastern-style recipes, or with charcuterie.
- 5 pounds asparagus spears
- 1 medium onion
- 4 - 6 small hot chile peppers (whole, fresh or dried)
- 2 cloves garlic (peeled and lightly smashed)
- 2 1/4 cups white wine vinegar
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 4 tablespoons sugar (or 3 tablespoons honey)
- 2 teaspoons kosher (or other non-iodized salt)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
- Set up the boiling water bath that you will process your jars of asparagus pickles in, and turn the heat on high to bring the water to a boil.
- Wash the asparagus. Hold each spear at either end and bend it until it snaps. From the point at which it snapped to the pointy tip of the spear is the tender portion that you will pickle. Don't throw the other ends out, though! Peeled, they cook in the same amount of time as the more tender parts. They are great in asparagus soup, or you can steam them and then add them to omelets or salads.
- If necessary, trim the bottom ends of the tender asparagus spears so that none of them is longer than 6 inches.
- Slice off the ends of the onion and peel it. Cut the onion in half lengthwise and then slice the halves into slivers. Peel and smash the garlic. Pierce fresh chile peppers with the tip of a knife, or break dried chile peppers in half.
- Combine the vinegar, water, sugar or honey, salt and spices in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes to release the flavors of the spices.
- While the vinegar and spice brine is simmering, load the jars. Divide the onion slivers, hot peppers and garlic between two quart-sized canning jars.
It is not necessary to sterilize the jars for this recipe, but they should be scrupulously clean. Place one of the jars on its side (it's easier to tightly load in the asparagus spears that way). Lay the asparagus in with the pointy tip end facing the rim of the jar. Keep adding more spears until it is impossible to fit in even one more: the asparagus will shrink a little during canning, and packing the spears in tightly keeps them from floating up out of the brine.
- Repeat with the other jar.
- Pour the hot brine over the asparagus spears. They should be completely covered by the liquid but still have at least 1/2-inch of space between the surface of the brine and the rims of the jars.
- Screw on canning lids and process in the boiling water bath for 20 minutes.
Wait at least a week before tasting - it takes that long for the flavors to combine and mellow.