Hoarding Veg + Spicy Asparagus Pickles

This time of year my culinary dreams are filled with overflowing baskets of delicate green vegetables — peas, artichokes, fava beans, leeks, baby lettuces, garlic scapes, nettles and other wild greens and herbs.

The one vegetable that truly heralds spring’s arrival: asparagus.

Ice bath asparagus_HGN

When I see those slender green spears, wrapped in tidy, uniform bunches standing so straight and tall at the local markets and farm stands, impulse takes over and I end up with far more than could be eaten in a normal amount of time. A good problem, without a doubt.

If you experience similar asparagus-induced purchasing issues, but aren’t sure what to do with all those spears beyond raw, steamed, sauteed and grilled at every meal — pickle them! I also freeze a ton, but for the sake of today’s post, let’s pickle!

Asparagus pickling mix_HGN

In addition to fabulous flavor, the list of health reasons to eat asparagus is long. This recipe uses a lacto-fermentation method, which is extra exciting as it provides even more benefits! I can’t get enough.

What’s in it for me?

Asparagus is packed with vitamins K, A and C, calcium and potassium — important for bone, skin, nail, hair and eye health. One of the richest sources of B vitamins, particularly folic acid, asparagus helps regulate levels of blood sugar and homocysteine, and is an extremely beneficial addition to a fertility and pregnancy diet.

Asparagus also contains an impressive number of antioxidants. One antioxidant in particular, glutathione, plays an important role in regulating protein synthesis, and prevention of certain cancers and diseases, among other things. Chromium, a trace mineral found in asparagus, enhances insulin’s ability to effectively transport glucose from the blood into our cells.

Its high fiber content and the carbohydrate “polyfructan” inulin (aka “good bacteria-promoting” prebiotic) help support good digestive health. Furthermore the lacto-fermentation gives your body a jump-start on breaking down nutrients, which can improve absorption of all these vitamins and minerals.

Asparagus pretty much rocks.

Pickled asparagus jar comparisons_HGN

I assure you that pickled veg — done well — are worthy of praise and a feature on your plate, not to be pushed aside or tossed to the squirrels at a barbecue. Even better are simple, fresh, vibrant quick pickles. We’re big fans. And spicy asparagus pickles do not disappoint.

This is just one of many ways to welcome asparagus onto your healthful spring menus. Stay tuned for another recipe coming soon. In the meantime, go get more asparagus… before I nip it all!

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… What’s your favorite pickled vegetable, and how do you enjoy it?

Spicy Asparagus Pickles
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
Recipe Type: Preserving, pickling, fermenting, side, vegetable
Makes: 1 quart jar
  • 1 bunch of thin asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp whole mixed color peppercorns (I used black, green and pink)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 fresh fennel fronds (or dill fronds)
  • 4 dried red chilli peppers
  • 1 tsp dried red chili flakes
  1. Trim the asparagus to fit a tall quart jar that has a tightly sealing lid. Fill a small rectangular casserole dish or rimmed sheet tray with ice water, and soak the asparagus 20 minutes to help them crisp up. Set aside.
  2. Bring 1/2 cup of the water in a small saucepan to a simmer over high heat. Remove from the heat and add the salt, stirring to dissolve. Add the remaining 2 cups water, and set aside to cool. In the meantime, gather your pickling ingredients (garlic through chilli flakes).
  3. Once the pickling liquid is cool, add the apple cider vinegar and stir to incorporate. Stand the chilled asparagus in your jar with the spears sticking up. Add all of the pickling spices, and then pour in the brine. (If there isn't enough to submerge the asparagus entirely, mix a pinch of salt into as much cool water as you need to top it off.)
  4. Cover the jar loosely with its lid, or a cotton dish towel or several layers of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Store in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight 5 to 7 days.
  5. Once the brine is cloudy, it's time to sample a spear! If it smells and tastes pickle-y, the jar is ready, and can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. If not, return the loose-fitting lid or cloth and place the jar back into its safe spot to continue fermenting. Try again in 1 to 2 days, then store in the fridge as previously directed.
HGN Notes
Use skinny asparagus spears for this recipe, as they will be more tender and snappy. If you can only find fat ones, those are certainly fine, too, but may require an extra day or so of fermentation.

+ I used a mixture of peppercorn colors -- go with whatever you prefer or have around, e.g., all black, black + white, all green, etc.
+ Substitute fresh dill fronds or a sprig of another herb in lieu of the fennel fronds.
+ Omit the chillies if you aren't into the spicy thing. Maybe add 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds in their place?

Recipe adapted from Honest Cooking.

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    • Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN says:

      Naturally, an overall balanced diet that focuses on whole veg and fruit, lean proteins, fiber-rich whole grains, and healthy sources of fat in moderation, in addition to regular physical activity, is best for blood sugar regulation. But asparagus is definitely a delicious way to bolster one’s efforts! Hope you do try the recipe, and find a new addition to your pickling repertoire!

    • Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN says:

      Dill is, well, dill-y… don’t know how to convey that flavor in any other way. It’s the iconic “pickle flavor,” very fresh and bright. Fennel, also known as anise, has a mellow, earthier flavor that’s similar to black licorice. Both are definitely herbaceous, but (in my opinion) fennel is calmer. I could go either way, though!

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