Pickled Zucchini – The Zuni Cafe Way

I am not sure if it is a good thing to see pickling get a big spread in the main stream media. This story in the LA Times does a great job of the basics behind pickling. I am all for bringing pickling to the masses by making it accessible. I get a little nervous though that it may start getting trendy. A food trend is a dangerous beast which cannot be tamed. It starts with a genuine article on something like chipotles in abode sauce and ends up corrupted into a mass-market product like Chipotle Flavor Doritos. The beast can rear in another direction, taking something that has always been humble yet good and turning it into the next “hit” item for adoring foodies to salivate over. Think pork bellies, ramps or the infamous charcutterie. I have loved pickles long before the expected groups of foodies arrived and will continue to love them long after Lays discontinues any pickle-based product line. (Route 11 does make some kickass pickle flavored chips though.)

All ranting and fear mongering aside, the LA Times piece was a great article and included some great recipes. The first one I tried was for pickled zucchini. The word “pickle” has become synonymous with pickled cucumber, but the truth is you can pickle almost any type of vegetable. Since zucchinis are cheap and plentiful throughout the summer, they are a prime target for pickling. This type of pickle doesn’t rely on fermentation for its acidity, like sour pickles, but rather vinegar is used to preserve and flavor the pickles.

This recipe is from the great Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. I have only been there once and had a great meal, but I didn’t get to try any pickles. I also found another Zuni Cafe recipe for pickles, this time for onions. Based on how well the zucchini recipe worked, I will have to give it a try.

These pickles get their crispness from a soak in a chilled salt brine and their color from turmeric, which is added to the pickling liquid. Turmeric is great at coloring things, so great that you have to be careful. Store the pickles in a non-staining plastic or glass container. If you wear any color other than yellow while making these pickles, do so at your own risk. You have been warned. If give this recipe a try, however, you will be rewarded with brilliant pickles both in flavor and color.

Zuni Café zucchini pickles

From: LA Times


  • 1 pound zucchini
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
  • Scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric


  1. Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice them one-sixteenth-inch thick; a mandoline works best. Slice the onion very thin as well. Combine the zucchini and onions in a large but shallow nonreactive bowl, add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt. Alternatively, transfer the salted zucchini and onion slices to a Japanese pickle maker and screw down the top; do not add any water or ice cubes.
  2. After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini — it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.
  3. Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. (If the brine is too hot, it will cook the vegetables and make the pickles soft instead of crisp.)
  4. Return the zucchini to a dry bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickle to jars, preferably ones that have “shoulders” to hold the zucchini and onions beneath the surface of the brine. Seal tightly and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color.

25 thoughts on “Pickled Zucchini – The Zuni Cafe Way

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    • I use a similar recipe.
      8 C. sliced squash
      2 c. sliced onions
      3 Green Bell Pepper, sliced
      2 1/2 C. Sugar
      2 tsp. Mustard Seed
      2 C. Vinegar
      2 tsp. Celery Seed
      1/2 tsp. yellow mustard
      1/2 C. Canning salt
      In a large bowl, layer squash, onions & peppers. Sprinkle with salt, stir, & let sit for 1 hour. Drain off excess liquid, (I rinse vegetables off so they aren’t too salty) In a large cooking pot, bring other ingredients to a boil & add vegetables. Bring back to a boil & cook for 5 minutes. Spoon into HOT jars, wipe rim, put on lids & bands & seal Tight. Allow filled jar to cool on counter or overnight. Seals will “Pop”. That lets you know they are sealed tight & can be stored for future use. Test jars by pushing on seal in the center. If the lids gives, Then, they are NOT sealed & must be eaten soon. I made some of these last summer (2011) and I still have some on the shelf! They will stay nice & crisp & crunch when you eat them!

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  9. Are these simply refrigerator pickles, or can I make some and store them in a root cellar? I am assuming the difference would just be pressurizing the jars, but wasn’t sure. Thanks!!!

    • I think it might be more to it than that. I think you also need a certain level of acidity, salt, or sugar to help prevent the growth of bacteria. Since the zucchini never get fully cooked like a tomato sauce, there could still be bacteria hiding in them.

    • Good question! It is a plastic container with a press to hold the vegetables in the pickling liquid. Do a quick search for Tsukemono and you should see some examples.

  10. I made these yesterday and had my first taste today and they were just FABULOUS. Super addictive, as any good pickle should be…

    Do you know how long these will keep in the fridge?

  11. Hi Maggie – That would definitely work. As long as you keep the level of salt and vinegar about the same you can add any seasoning you want. Let us know how it works!

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