Farmers Markets

Put That Cucumber Down—Pickle This Instead

Last summer I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a friend’s backyard vegetable bounty.

Nearly every week I could count on opening my front door to find a basket teeming with beefsteak tomatoes, cucumbers, snap peas, chard, kale, and tubs of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. I could also count on finding, snuck below the tomatoes and peas, a few dozen zucchini affixed with a Post-It note reading: “Sorry!”

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It’s a familiar cry during the summer, but I wasn’t about to complain—I could only hope to find anything as prolific in my garden. And besides, with so many resources out there now, should anyone fear the onslaught of zucchini this summer? From butter to quickbreadspancakes to gratins, we know how to quickly pare down our haul. 


And here’s one more to add to your arsenal: pickles. This recipe comes from The Zuni Café Cookbook, which credits the pickles’ intense, saturated flavor to “careful purging” and cold brining: Soak slices of squash in a salt-water brine to draw out its water and cause it to soften. After one hour of this "purging," the squash is primed to better soak up the brine. Remove the squash from the salt bath and then submerge it in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds, and turmeric. Leave them like this for a day in the fridge, and they're ready. 


In the preface to the recipe, Judy Rodgers notes that this isn’t the recipe (unfortunately) to turn to when you’ve inherited one too many zucchini baseball bats, nor is it a good use for expensive fingerling or baby zucchini. Rogers suggests using firm, medium-sized zucchini or green pattypan squash. 

On their own, these brilliant yellow, tangy pickles are on the sweet side, which concerned me initially. But after weeks of watching friends and neighbors gobble them up with burgers and sandwiches, I stopped thinking about cutting back the sugar—there is, after all, a reason these pickles accompany every burger at Zuni Cafe. The next time you find yourself with a glut of zucchini, think about preserving them—they’ll never disappear so quickly. 

Choosing, storing, and prepping your zucchini:
Look for zucchini with smooth, unblemished skin that feel heavy for their size. Small- to medium-sized zucchini are ideal—large ones tend to be seedy, watery, starchy, and less flavorful. Store them in an open bag in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator and use within a week if possible. Zucchini can be dirty, so before using, wash to remove any grit clinging to their skins. Trim off each end; no need to peel.  

After you've put up your pickles, here are a few more ways to use your zucchini:

Zucchini pickles, here atop Alexandra's herby Turnip Burgers.

Zuni Cafe Zucchini Pickles

Makes 1 1/2 to 2 pints 

1 pound zucchini
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons salt, a little more if using kosher
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/2  teaspoons crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

This post originally ran in July of last year—we're bringing it back because it's time to make these pickles again! 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sandra Morrissey
    Sandra Morrissey
  • Robert Smith
    Robert Smith
  • ShannonCollins
  • mward
  • Marcheta
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


Sandra M. June 2, 2019
Can you use Pyure or Stevia
Robert S. July 12, 2017
You might want to try adding some grape leaves -either fresh or jarred-for the Tannin (it adds crunch). I always add Grape leaves to my Brine pickles so they are super crunchy. Thanks for the recipie!
Alexandra S. July 13, 2017
Interesting — thanks!
ShannonCollins March 30, 2017
This recipe looks amazing for the season! Need a new approach to pickles! Thank You. Can't wait to try!
mward August 27, 2016
I cut the sugar to 3/4 cup and used 1 1/2 cup vinegar with a half cup of water. This worked well, but I think I'll cut the sugar to 2/3 cup next. Great recipe! I put some of the slices on a chicken sandwich--delicious. And I'm going to try pouring the brine over very lightly steamed cauliflour, maybe with red onions, and let sit overnight.
Marcheta August 18, 2016
Made these last night. Super with a hamburger pattie. Will try cutting the vinegar and sugar next time. Otherwise, a hit for sure.
Alexandra S. August 18, 2016
So happy to hear this, Marcheta! Let me know how cutting back the vinegar and sugar goes ... I've been meaning tot try as well.
Picholine July 26, 2016
I made this and per usual I was compelled to throw in some crushed red pepper and a head of fresh dill. Truly delish
Alexandra S. July 26, 2016
Ha, I love it, sounds truly delish!
Picholine July 21, 2016
A friend gave me some zucchini yesterday and I was going to make my usual recipes. Now I'm not! Today there will be zucchini pickles in the house!
Alexandra S. July 21, 2016
Yes! So nice to have on hand (for burgers especially!).
Bob December 17, 2015
Sounds great this recipe. And looking at the pictures and the ingredients I think it's delicious as well. Tomorrow I try this fantastic recipe.
Alexandra S. July 21, 2016
Hope you liked them, Bob! Sorry just seeing this now!
Shirley B. July 16, 2015
So I couldn't pressure cooker cañning then? What you think cause would like to make alot and shelf for winter.going to do the relish..
Alexandra S. July 16, 2015
If you know how to pressure cooker can, then I say go for it!
Bob E. July 14, 2015
I know you said you were going to try cutting back on the sugar...have you? What would you suggest for a healthy sugar substitute for a diabetic, and one that isn't artificial or a GMO?
Alexandra S. July 14, 2015
I haven't tried yet, Bob, but I suspect you could it back significantly. I wouldn't cut it by more than half to start, and I would adjust more after seeing how that batch comes out. As for other sugars, do you use maple syrup? I recently made the pickled turnips and beets from the My New Roots cookbook, and that recipe called for maple syrup — it worked beautifully.
Jara July 26, 2016
I made these with about two tablespoons of a stevia sugar blend and they were plenty sweet for me. I also liked that it made the mustard/ vinegar flavors come forward more. I've also been using the brine liquid as a salad dressing base- so good with a bit more mustard and oil.
Alexandra S. July 26, 2016
Wow, so interesting about the salad dressing base — will try that!
mela August 13, 2016
I cut the sugar to 3/4 cup. They are fine that way, and likely a further cut would work.

If I were going to make them again I'd also dilute the vinegar with water, possibly 50:50. This level of acidity is needed for canning but not for short-term storage.
Alexandra S. August 13, 2016
Great to hear this, Mela! Going to try cutting the sugar next time.
Tanya July 13, 2015
A couple of years ago my friend randomly made zucchini relish oh my goss o ate and ate ! Does anyone one jhave recipe for this
Heather M. July 13, 2015
I made these last year and they are SO SALTY that they're just about inedible. I think this is due to the "brining" or salt water soak. If anyone knows how to get them to purge the salt after that soak, please let me know!
Alexandra S. July 13, 2015
Really?! That's too bad. I would suggest rinsing the zucchini slices under cold water after the soak, then carefully drying them, then proceeding with the recipe. Good luck if you give it another go!
Susan July 11, 2015
Hahah. iPad 1, me 0. The amount of cucumbers lurking expectantly in my kitchen is easily and likely in excess of 20 lbs.
Alexandra S. July 11, 2015
Amazing! I cannot wait to pickle cucs this summer....didn't grow any myself, but I've been keeping my eyes peeled at the market :)
Susan July 24, 2015
My sibs and I often regret that we live too far apart to swap veggies and fruit. :)
BennyandBianca M. July 11, 2015
Do you know if sugar is a must in this recipe?
Alexandra S. July 11, 2015
I think some sugar is a must. I have a feeling the sugar could be cut back without any harm done, but I haven't tried because they've been so well received as is. But, I have been meaning to try cutting the sugar. Will report back if I do.
Miska K. July 6, 2015
these look great! how do you process these for putting up? water bath canning acceptable?
Alexandra S. July 6, 2015
I would imagine so. We've been having this discussion in the comments section over here: My only concern, and truly I am a novice pickler, is that Judy Rodgers in the preface to the recipe made such a big deal about the "cold brining," and I wonder if the hot temperature of the water bath could cause the zucchini to soften too much? But maybe they will be fine because the salt brine will preserve them? Next time I make a batch, I will try.
Teresa D. July 5, 2015
My grandmother used to make Zuchinni Relish and it was delicious. I remember how great it was in tuna salad...
Alexandra S. July 5, 2015
I bet! We put a sweet relish (store-bought) in our tuna salad as well — these pickles chopped up would be great in there!
Hermione July 4, 2015
I've never pickled anything before but this looks fantastic! I have lots of zucchini growing and will have glut soon and will definitely try pickling them!
Alexandra S. July 4, 2015
Fantastic. Report back when you do!