Makes 1 quart.
10 ounces sliced celery (in 1/8” thick slices, from about 8 stalks)
1/4 white onion, sliced very thinly
1/2 cup shaved fennel
4-6 strips lemon peel cut into a very thin julienne
1 tablespoon kosher or flaky sea salt)
3/8 cup plus 2 teaspoons natural sugar
1 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon (scant) nigella seeds
1/2 teaspoon (scant) ajwain seeds*
1 teaspoon (scant) pink pepper corns
1 “point” from a star anise
Put the celery, onion, and fennel into a good-sized, non-reactive bowl (stainless, ceramic, glass). Add the salt and two teaspoons of sugar. Stir to mix/coat the vegetables with the salt and sugar. Cover the bowl loosely and let stand for at least 45 minutes (up to a couple of hours if you get busy with something else). At this point, you’ll see a lot of liquid collected in the bottom of the bowl, which is just what you want.
Dump the celery mixture into a strainer, fill the bowl with cold, clean water, return the celery mixture to the bowl, swish, and drain. Then, return the celery mixture to the bowl, fill with cold water, swish, and drain (again). After the second rinse/drain, leave the celery mixture to drain for about 10 minutes, before dumping it onto the center of a clean kitchen towel. Gather the corners of the towel and gently squeeze the celery mixture to remove some excess liquid. Wipe out the bowl and dump the celery mixture back into it. Add the lemon zest (and a few fennel fronds if you’d like).
Mix the vinegar, water, sugar, spices, together and bring to a boil. (on the stove or in the microwave). Stir to make sure that the sugar is dissolved, then pour the steaming hot liquid over the celery mix.
Transfer the vegetables and vinegar to a clean (scalded) jar, screw down the jar lid, and let the pickles cool to room temperature. Or, loosely cover the bowl and let the pickles cool before jarring them — obviously, they cool more quickly this way. That’s it. They’re ready to eat, but are tastier the next day.
*Celery seed can be substituted for the ajwain, but use only a 1/4 teaspoon.