Tsukemono- a Japanese pickling adventure

Tsukemono, Japanese pickled foods, are served with most traditional Japanese meals along with rice and miso soup. They serve many purposes. They are used as a garnish, for palate cleansing, as a relish and as a digestive. Several different types of tsukemono exist. Probably the most common type is the simple salt pickle, shiozuke.

Shiozuke

Shiozuke is probably the most common pickle because of its simplicity. Take fresh seasonal vegetables, salt them for a few hours and then you’re done. Cucumbers are commonly salt pickled creating a crisp, mild pickle that is a nice side dish for a meal. Another common salt pickle is the umeboshi plum. Umeboshi plums are heavily salted. They take a little more time and have a stronger flavor. Umeboshi are often served with rice to mellow out the strength of the pickle. Following is my cucumber shiozuke tsukemono recipe. The steps are fairly simple.

Cucumber shiozuke 

Ingredients:

2 cucumbers, 1 Tbsp salt

Optional add ins: toasted sesame seeds, thinly sliced onions, chili pepper, garlic, ginger

Recipe:

* Slice cucumbers very thin.

* Place cucumbers in bowl and sprinkle with salt. Mix the salt with the cucumbers.

* Add in optional ingredients if desired. Mix in well.

* Place ingredients flat in bowl or canning jar. Use another jar or plate to add pressure to the vegetable to help press out the water.

* Place in fridge and let sit for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

* Salt pickles are now ready to serve.

Daikon can be pickled this way too.

Making Suzuke 

Suzuke is another common way to pickle in Japan. Suzuke is the vinegar pickle. Traditionally rice vinegar was used and pickles achieve a crunchy, sweet and sour flavor. Rice vinegar is low acid, so these pickles are also meant to be eaten fresh and kept refrigerated. Gari (sweet pickled ginger) and rakkyo (sweet pickled scallions) are two common and tasty vinegar pickles. Cucumbers can also be vinegar pickled. Sweet suzuke cucumber pickles were the type my grandmother always made. If you are up for the tsukemono adventure, following are some basic recipes for daikon suzuke, scallion suzuke and gari (ginger suzuke) to try out.

Daikon suzuke 

Ingredients:

1 large daikon radish

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup sugar (we substitute maple syrup)

1/2 cup water

1 Tbsp salt

Optional: pinch of turmeric for color

* Peel daikon and thinly slice or cut into ribbons with mandolin slicer.

* Mix rice vinegar, water, salt, turmeric and sugar together and heat to dissolve sugar and salt. (We often substitute maple syrup instead of sugar. Look for a post coming up on fried maple leaves, a delicacy in parts of Japan.)

* Place daikon in dish or jar with a lid. Pour vinegar solution over the daikon to cover.

* Allow flavors to develop in refrigeration for a couple days.

* After two days, taste your suzuke to see if the flavor is strong enough. If you like them stronger, wait longer before serving.

Scallion and ginger take the same pickling solution as the daikon. I lightly salt the ginger and squeeze out the moisture after 15 minutes before using the pickling solution.

Pickled Scallions
Gari

Many other types of tsukemono including shoyuzuke- preserved in a soy sauce; nukazuke- fermented in rice bran; misozuke- miso paste pickling; and kasuzuke- pickled in sake lees.

Pickling in Japan is truly a culinary art. Not only do they taste great with many different flavors, they are beautiful to look at when presented for a meal. Often Japanese cooks present their tsukemono with many different colors and cut the vegetables differently to give a different appearance as well.

Commonly pickled vegetables include daikon radishes, carrots, cucumber, japanese eggplants, cabbage, asian greens, burdock, lotus root, turnips, ginger, shallots, scallions and sour plums. Of course traditional cooks pickle many other items as well.

Join me in this tsukemono adventure and try out one of my recipes. There are also books and websites full of tons of different tsukemono recipes, if you prefer to try a pickle I haven’t detailed. Enjoy some pickles and let us know what you think in the comments below.

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