Seasonal Eating in Japan: Making Tsukemono

Cucumber tsukemono

The pickling containers are out at the hardware store, the farmer’s markets are abounding with amazing vegetables…How about joining the rest of the Japanese housewives and start pickling?

Of all the pickling techniques, the simplest and the fastest for the inexperienced cook is salt pickling.  The process is called “instant” pickling and relies on the fact that salt will draw the water out of vegetables, thereby boosting the taste of the vegetables.

The process is quite simple and straightforward. The fastest pickle you can prepare is probably the cucumber, so let’s start with that. Get some nice cucumbers, cut them into slices about one cm thick (with the skin still on), and toss them in a bowl with a little bit of coarse salt. Japan has some amazing sea salt – look for it at your local market – and it’s much better than the stuff you’ll find in your salt shaker. After that you just need to wait a little bit for the cucumber to lose some of its water. After about twenty minutes taste the cucumber; it should be crunchy and slightly salty. If you used too much salt you can put the cucumber in a coleander and rinse it under running water to wash away some of the extra salt.

It may sound overly simple, but Japanese food is not about masking the taste of the ingredients. It’s about showcasing the freshness of the product and its natural virtues.

Salt pickling works great with many vegetables, including Chinese cabbage and daikon. It’s also a great way to avoid waste since your pickles will keep for a couple days in a sealed container.

It’s easy – go pickling!

Photo credit: Shoko (username “shok” on Flickr), used under Flickr Creative Commons license.