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PICKLES - "TSUKEMONO"
BACK | SALT PICKLES | RICE BRAN PICKLES | MISO PICKLES

Rarely is there a meal in Japan where tsukemono (pickles) are not served. The simplest and most basic meal is nothing more than a bowl of rice and umeboshi (pickled plum), but tsukemono are also served at the most sophisticated and complex feasts. Japanese pickles are not at all like the pickles found in Western cooking. Tsukemono are prepared in a number of ways with many different types of foods being pickled, fruit, vegetables, eggs, seeds, even fish!

The varieties of tsukemono are endless, with literally thousands of types to choose from and hundreds of techniques for making them! Popular pickled vegetables include Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, bamboo, turnips, gobo (burdock root), ginger, Japanese cucumbers, and Japanese eggplant.

Tsukemono offer color, texture and aroma to a meal, the earliest known tsukemono were called konomono or "fragrant things". Vegetable tsukemono are crisp and always fresh, with small amounts of several varieties usually served in individual petite dishes. All types of tsukemono are available commercially but many people make pickles at home because it's so inexpensive and easy. Here are recipes for just some of the pickles I have enjoyed making in my own kitchen.

SHIO-ZUKE (salt pickles)
The method used to make shio-zuke
(salt pickles) is an easy one. Pressure is placed upon vegetables that are salted, causing them to release their liquids. The resulting brine
then pickles the vegetables.

Traditionally foods were salted and placed in tubs that were then covered by lids weighed down with large stones. Today, many modern Japanese kitchens use a plastic pickle press.

Pickle press
TRY PICKLING THESE!

3 kyuri (Japanese cucumbers), unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds,
three teaspoons of salt.

or perhaps you'd prefer...
3 nasu (Japanese eggplants), unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds,
three teaspoons of salt.

Place the cucumber or eggplant slices into the pickle press (or jar) and add one teaspoon of salt, mix well by stirring with your hands. Add the second teaspoon of salt and mix again. Add the final tablespoon of salt and mix well. Clamp on the top of the pickle press and screw down the lid until it pushes down tightly on the top layer of vegetables to be pickled. Leave under pressure overnight or for at least 10 hours. Remove the pickles from the press and place in a colander, wash well to remove salt, pat dry and serve. Salt pickles like these should last a week or more when refrigerated, but they're so delicious you'll probably eat them all before you have any left to store!

KYABETSU TO NINJIN NO ASAZUKE (pickled cabbage and carrot)

1 small head of regular cabbage (3/4 pound),
the leaves cut into pieces about an inch square
1 medium sized carrot, cut into matchstick slices about an inch long
1 Japanese cucumber, unpeeled and cut into matchstick
slices about an inch long
4 tablespoons of salt

Place vegetable slices into the pickle press (or jar) and add one teaspoon of salt, mix well by stirring with your hands. Add the second teaspoon of salt and mix again. Add the final tablespoon of salt and mix well. Clamp on the top of the pickle press and screw down the lid until it pushes down tightly on the top layer of vegetables. Leave under pressure overnight or for at least 10 hours. Remove the pickles from the press and place them in a colander, wash them well to remove salt, pat them dry and serve.
NUKA-ZUKE (rice bran pickles)
Pickles made from rice bran... nuka-zuke, are delicious and easy to make. They have a pungent aroma, a tangy flavor, and are very nutritious since they harbor vitamins and minerals from the rice bran. Unlike salt pickles, nuka-zuke last for only a few days once removed from the pickling medium. It is best to pluck them fresh from the pickling medium, wash them, pat them dry and then immediately eat them. Like all Japanese pickles, these are particularly tasty with sake or beer!

In order to make nuka-zuke you will need a large wide mouthed glass jar or ceramic pot with a tight fitting lid, I use a large glass jar with a lid that clamps shut (plastic, wood, or metal containers won't work for this pickling method). A jar with at least a quart capacity is required. Begin by purchasing a package of nuka (rice bran) from an Asian food store. Some brands already have salt and other agents mixed into the bran, I like doing this myself so I purchase plain dry roasted rice bran.

Place 6 cups of rice bran and 1 tablespoon of salt in a bowl and add 1 3/4 to 2 cups of water. Mix together with your hands until the bran has the consistency of slightly moist sand. Place some of the moist bran in your jar and then add a small 2 inch strip of konbu seaweed (this helps maintain the moisture balance in your pickling medium), add more bran to cover and then add 2 cloves of peeled but uncut garlic (this adds much flavor to the final pickles, you can also use a small knob of fresh ginger). Continue to fill the jar with bran and then add 2 dried red peppers (this adds flavor to the pickles but also discourages bugs from entering the rice bran mix.

Finish filling the jar with bran, making sure that the konbu, peppers, and garlic are completely buried. It will take at least a week for the rice bran medium to ripen and be ready for use. You can speed up this process by adding vegetable scraps (peels from cucumbers, wilted cabbage leaves), to the bran but remove the scraps after a day or two. After a week or so the pickling medium should have a heady aroma and look like damp sand. It will then be ready to use.

A nice batch of rice bran medium can last for years, if it becomes too wet after much use just add a little bit of dry rice bran. A good trick to prevent your rice bran bed from getting too soggy is to ad a handful of dried soybeans to the mix! The beans absorb excess moisture and also impart a mild flavor. It's also a good idea to "air out" the mix on occasion, stirring it up with your hands or a spoon. Vegetables to be pickled should be completely embedded in the rice bran and left in the pickling medium for no more than two days. The finished pickles should be bright in color, limp but crunchy, and possess a subtle aroma and earthy aftertaste. Good pickles are only slightly salty and have a delightful tangy flavor to them. It takes some effort to keep the pickling bed in good shape, for instance, in summer your bed can sprout white mold... if that happens just pluck out the mold, air out the bed, and add a bit of fresh rice bran. Tending your pickling bed takes work... but the delicious pickles are well worth the effort!

VEGETABLES TO PICKLE IN RICE BRAN

(1) carrots, cut into spears about an inch long

(2) Japanese eggplants (nasu), unpeeled, pierced with a knife, and cut into segments about one inch long

(3) Japanese cucumbers (kyuri), pierced with a knifeand cut into segments about an inch long

(4) broccoli, cut off excess stem and imbed small flowerets

(5) daikon, cut into rounds about 1/4 inch thick (you can also cut them into half moon shapes)

(6) Japanese turnips (kabu), slice off the greens and cut a deep X into the stem area before embedding in the rice bran. You can also embed the turnip greens to be pickled

MISO-ZUKE (miso pickles)
The oldest known variety of Japanese pickle was made using miso. Miso imparts it's flavor to whatever vegetable you're pickling, with red or white miso giving different results. Miso pickles take a long time to mature and many types are allowed to cure for years before eating. Parboiling the vegetables for a few minutes allows for a shorter pickling time, but remember, the longer the pickles are allowed to rest in the miso, the more fragrant and flavorful the pickle. Here are a few choices for making miso-zuke using this quick parboiling method.

VEGETABLES TO PICKLE IN MISO

(1) carrots, cut into spears about an inch long, parboil and pat dry before embedding in red miso for at least 3 months (preferably longer)

(2) burdock root (gobo), cut into spears about an inch long, parboil and pat dry before embedding in red miso for at least 3 months (preferably longer)

(3) asparagus, parboil and pat dry before embedding in white miso overnight

(4) beefsteak leaves (shiso), embed in red or white miso for at least 1 month. Use chopped as a filling for rice balls!

(5) daikon, cut into rounds about 1/4 inch thick (you can also cut them into half moon shapes). embed in red miso for at least 3 months

(6) Japanese cucumbers (kyuri), cut into rounds about 1/2 inch thick, salt press, then embed in red or white miso for at least 4 months.

NINNIKU MISO-ZUKE (garlic pickled in miso)
12 cloves of garlic
1 cup of red miso

Remove the outer skin from the garlic and then parboil the cloves for about 3 minutes. Pat dry and then cut the garlic lengthwise into halves. Fill a small glass jar (or small lidded tupperware) with about one cup of red miso. Embed the garlic in the miso, making certain that the garlic is completely covered (add more miso if necessary). Cover the container and refrigerate, after 3 months you can remove the garlic from the miso. Pluck just the amount you will use for the meal, leaving the rest of the garlic to continue pickling. Wash and pat dry before serving. Once you've eaten all of the delicious garlic pickles, the miso used in the pickling can then be used to make a delectable miso soup!
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