Seasonal Eating in Japan: Daikon recipes

LucGougeonDaikon1

A little boy carries a daikon at the Sera Daikon Festival in October. (Photo by Luc Gougeon)

By Luc Gougeon

It’s daikon season folks! Daikon, or Japanese radish, will always mysteriously find its way onto your plate, be it in a sushi shop’s fancy stringy garnish or the oden tub next to the cash register in pretty much any konbini in Japan. It’s also a school lunch favorite. Like it or not, you are probably eating daikon almost everyday or at least every week.

This Halloween, I went to the Sera Daikon Festival, where I saw just how much Japanese fancy their daikon. Fall is the season when the vegetable is firmest and sweetest. At least 200 cars were lined up in a makeshift parking lot next to a huge daikon field where people could pick as many 100-yen daikon as they could humanly carry back to their car. People were shoving their way in the field like it was Boxing Day!

You don’t need to pick your own daikon to enjoy its great taste since it is available all year long in the supermarket and can be bought in pretty much any size from the size of a coffee cup to the size of a small log. If you cook for yourself, you might not need a 3-kilogram daikon, but the average Japanese housewife can pickle her own weight in daikon using one of those huge plastic garbage bins you see in supermarkets and hardware stores.

The whole daikon can be eaten, including the skin and the leaves. By removing the skin, you can reduce the pungency of the daikon, and cooking it will bring out its sweetness. Daikon can be eaten raw, cooked or pickled. There are so many daikon recipes out there, you should ask your fellow co-workers about their favorite one. I particularly enjoy pickled daikon, or tsukemono, so I will recommend two tsukemono recipes that cannot go wrong.

I found the first recipe in the new Momofuku cookbook by David Chang, a chef at one of the trendiest restaurants in New York City. Daikon kimchi is really easy to prepare and packs a nice punch despite being less funky smelling than the traditional Korean kimchi.

Daikon Kimchi Recipe

INGREDIENTS:

(You will mix different ingredients in two separate bowls and eventually you will combine everything together.)

First bowl:

  • Daikon cut in 1 cm slices (about a pound of it)
  • 1½ tablespoons of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt

Second bowl:

  • 1½ teaspoons of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce (usukuchi)
  • 1½ tablespoons of Korean pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1½ tablespoons of fresh ginger finely chopped
  • Green onion to taste
  • 1 small carrot cut into small bits

DIRECTIONS:

  1. You will need two big bowls. In the first bowl, mix the daikon with 1½ tablespoons of sugar and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes. The daikon will lose some of its water.
  2. In the second bowl, put in 1½ teaspoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the rest of the ingredients. Mix and let it sit.
  3. Drain the water out of the daikon in the first bowl. Squeeze the water out of it with your hands. Then mix the daikon with the rest of the ingredients in the second bowl. Transfer the whole mix to an airtight container. The pickled daikon can be kept in the fridge for quite a while and will only get better with time.

The second recipe is a Japanese classic and will take very little time to prepare. Daikon namasu or amazu-zuke is one of the easiest ways to pickle daikon.

Daikon Namasu Recipe

INGREDIENTS:

  • About 1 pound of daikon
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of rice vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cut the daikon into 1 cm slices. Stir in the salt and let it sit for about 20 minutes.
  2. Rinse the salt out of the daikon and squeeze the water out of the daikon with your hand.
  3. Add the rice vinegar and sugar and adjust the taste.
  4. Put the daikon in a sealed container in the refrigerator. The taste should start developing after a day in the fridge.

Enjoy your daikon namasu! Take some to work and they will treat you like a superstar.

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