This pickled jalapeño vinaigrette is so simple that it almost shouldn't count as a recipe. Nevertheless, it's one of my favorite dressings and makes excellent use of one of the unsung heroes of the pickle world: pickle brine.
Don't pour your pickle brine down the drain!
Think about it: as your veggies sit and pickle in their brine, they are infused with flavor. Salt, acidity, and also whatever aromatics are in the brine with them-- garlic, fresh herbs, whole spices like allspice or clove. That flavorful environment infuses your cucumbers (or peppers, or carrots, or green beans, or or....) with tons of flavor.
But what about the brine?
The brine also absorbs flavors from the aromatics, and even from the veggies that are being pickled. But what do most people do when the pickles are eaten up? Pour the brine down the drain and (hopefully) toss the jar into the recycling bin. What if you took that tasty, tasty brine and harnessed its power? This recipe uses peppery leftover jalapeño brine in a super simple salad dressing. (You might also want to try using the brine as part of a marinade, but we'll talk more about that some other time.)
The simplicity of this jalapeño vinaigrette makes it incredibly easy to keep on hand as a quick weeknight fix.
Pickled peppers, garlic, brine, and oil. A bit of sweetener to round everything out. That's it! It's easy to make a big batch to have on hand, and will keep well in the refrigerator for at least a week. But now that you have that big jar of dressing, how will you use it? Here are some ideas to get your creativity flowing:
- Green salads: This is essentially a standard vinaigrette. Use it anywhere you want a bright, zippy dressing. I particularly love it in an arugula-avocado salad, packed with different flavors and textures.
- Beans: Creamy beans lightly dressed in a flavorful vinaigrette is a fabulous side or base for a meal. Sometimes I'll top the dressed beans with an egg and call it dinner. This is particularly tasty if using Good Beans-- like Rancho Gordo, Zursun, Maine Grains, or Baer's Best! (Not affiliate links! I just believe in Good Beans for All.)
- Rice (or other grain): If you're a fan of serving rice or grains as a side to a protein, try folding a spoonful of this vinaigrette into the pot before serving. It not only seasons and flavors the rice, but also adds a bit of richness from the oil.
- "Grilled Things": Anything grilled has a particular depth and density of flavor that pairs really well with bright, zippy seasoning. (Think a squeeze of lemon over grilled salmon!) Drizzling anything grilled-- steak, fish, veggies--with a vinaigrette is one of my favorite, simple ways to take the meal to the next level with minimal effort. This dressing is perfect for that!
- Egg salad: Trust me on this one. Chop up your eggs, add a dab of mayo, and a spoonful of this dressing. Make sure to scoop up some of the diced jalapeño! Mix it all together, adjust salt, and boom! An insanely tasty egg salad, ready for a sandwich.
Notes for Success:
If you're sensitive to heat, you can still enjoy this dressing. Try decreasing the amount of actual pickled jalapeños used, or make sure to mince the jalapeños up very fine, to prevent any surprise mouthfuls. You can also try using a milder pickled pepper. Banana peppers or pickled sweet peppers are both excellent options. Just remember to taste the brine to get a sense for its natural salt content!
If you misjudged your own heat tolerance and find the whole batch too hot, never fear! The heat comes from the oils of the jalapeño, so you can tame the kick by diluting the spicy oil with more EVOO. Try sprinkling an extra spoonful of oil over your salad, or try making a creamy dressing by whisking in a bit of mayo before tossing your salad together.
Essential Recipe: Jalapeño Vinaigrette
- ½ cup chopped pickled jalapeños
- ⅔ cup pickled jalapeño brine
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon honey, agave, or maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Kosher salt, to taste
- In a 16-ounce glass jar, mix together the jalapeños, their brine, and the minced garlic. Let sit 10 minutes, to mellow the raw bite of the garlic. Add the olive oil, honey, and black pepper. Cover and shake vigorously to combine. Taste and adjust salt to your liking.