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How to make pickles - Japanese Style

Updated on September 10, 2014
Photo of cucumber slices by Stacy
Photo of cucumber slices by Stacy | Source
A typical tsukemono ( pickled vegetable ) shop in Japan.
A typical tsukemono ( pickled vegetable ) shop in Japan. | Source

My Love for the Humble Pickle

In America, it's called a pickle and in the UK, it's called the gherkin. Whatever it's called, pickles are a favorite among many people. I remember many years ago during a trip to Walt Disney World, I saw a food vendor selling whole pickles to munch on. I was surprised to see this as I never thought of munching on a pickled cucumber walking down the street.

I ended up buying one and I realized that the sourness of the pickle invigorated me in the hot Florida sun. Then I thought about how similar it is to Japanese people eating cucumbers in the summer to help cool down the body from the intense summer heat. In many Asian countries, we consume cucumbers to help cool the body temperature and because of the high water content, it hydrates as well.

Here in Japan, pickling vegetables is an age-old tradition. My mother used to pickle cabbage and cucumbers for us when we were younger. I have memories of my grandmother trying to force me to taste some of her just pickled eggplants when we visited her in the countryside. As I got older I started to appreciate the art of pickling vegetables.

Buckets of Tsukemono on display.
Buckets of Tsukemono on display. | Source

I Want To Know

Have You Ever Tried Japanese Pickles?

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The Infinite Varieties of Pickles in Japan

There are many variations of pickled vegetables in Japan and they are made differently depending on the region of the country. In fact, there are some cities in Japan that are famous for the pickles such as Kyoto and Yamagata. Nara, the old capital, is known for their Narazuke. It's quite an intense pickle and is meant to be eaten with rice.

In your typical Japanese household, we tend to make "quick" pickles which can be eaten almost straight away or the very next day. This saves time and is an easy and delicious way to use vegetables.

One of my favorite thing to make in the summer is a cucumber pickle that can be eaten just after sitting overnight in the refrigerator. It's refreshing, easy to make and makes a great accompaniment to salads. It is also a great side dish to a fish meal. Just make sure to include a bowl of rice and miso soup for a complete meal.

Did you know that cucumbers are more than 95% water?

  • Prep time: 10 min
  • Cook time: 7 hours 50 min
  • Ready in: 8 hours
  • Yields: 4

Cucumber Pickles with Shiso and Green Onions

These easy-to-make cucumber pickles are great as a side dish or on top of salads. They are less intense than the American pickle in sourness and similar to a salad. They also make a refreshing appetizer for warm summer evenings.

Japanese cucumbers work best for this recipe but can be made with American cucumbers. If you cannot find shiso in your local supermarket, you can omit it altogether and use another herb such as Italian parsley, although it doesn't give the dish it's unique flavor.

Sprinkle sliced leeks or green onions on the top. Put in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. Enjoy!
Sprinkle sliced leeks or green onions on the top. Put in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 6 shiso leaves
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions

Instructions

  1. Prepare the mixture by combining vinegar, water, salt and sugar.
  2. MIx until the ingredients are combined and keep in a shallow container.
  3. Cut the cucumbers into sticks. Put the cucumber sticks and shiso leaves into the liquid.
  4. Top with sliced green onions. Store in refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight. Enjoy as is or as a side dish to your favorite summer meals.

Versatile and Delicious

OHSAWA® OINDO SHISO POWDER CONDIMENT 1.76 OZ
OHSAWA® OINDO SHISO POWDER CONDIMENT 1.76 OZ

If you can't find shiso, you can use this shiso powder as an alternative. Because this is the salted version, I would eliminate the salt to the pickle recipe above.

Shiso powder is so versatile, it can be used for all kinds of dishes. It's great as a topping for salads or as a seasoning when stir frying. Of course nothing beats the simplicity of a sprinkling of shiso powder over a steaming bowl of hot and fluffy white rice. YUM!

 

Cucumber Sunomono (Vinegared Cucumbers)

When I've had a busy day and I'm pressed for time, this is my go-to recipe that makes use of any cucumbers I may have lying around the house. This is a very typical Japanese dish that we often eat.

It's one of the easiest side dishes to make and makes a refreshing and cooling treat on a hot summer day. This recipe is so easy that It only requires 4 ingredients and 5 minutes.


  • Prep time: 5 min
  • Ready in: 5 min
  • Yields: 3

Ingredients

  • 3 cucumbers sliced very thin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • Sesame seeds ( optional )

Would You Make These At Home?

5 stars from 1 rating of Easy-to-Make Japanese Cucumbers
OXO Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer
OXO Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer

Sure you can slice cucumbers ( or any other vegetables ) by hand, but did you know there's a better way? A slicer like this one really makes things so much easier for the home cook.

The sharp V-blade slice hard vegetables like potatoes and carrots as well as soft ones like tomatoes. Includes different blades for straight, crinkle and julienne with the ability to adjust the thickness of your slices.

 

Instructions

  1. Slice the cucumbers into very thin slices using a vegetable peeler or mandoline slicer. You can also choose to slice them by hand. Just be careful not to slice your finger off. Yikes!
  2. Put the cucumbers into a bowl. Add salt and toss to coat the cucumbers. With your hands, massage the cucumbers and squeeze out as much of the excess water as you can, discarding the excess water that comes out of the cucumbers after several squeezes. Finally drain the excess water.
  3. Add the sugar and vinegar and mix with hand. Cool in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Serve as part of a complete meal.

Instructional Photos for Sunomono

Click thumbnail to view full-size
First thing you need to do is to thoroughly wash the cucumbers.After washing, pat them dry.Slice the cucumbers very thin. Use a vegetable slicer if you can. Add the salt.Squeeze as much water out of the cucumbers as you can with your hands.The excess water looks like this. Throw it away.This is what the cucumbers look like after water has been squeezed out. There should be no water at the bottom of the bowl. Add vinegar and sugar and mix well. Put into the refrigerator and chill.Serve with sesame seeds if you want to add some color and extra flavor.
First thing you need to do is to thoroughly wash the cucumbers.After washing, pat them dry.
First thing you need to do is to thoroughly wash the cucumbers.After washing, pat them dry.
Slice the cucumbers very thin. Use a vegetable slicer if you can. Add the salt.
Slice the cucumbers very thin. Use a vegetable slicer if you can. Add the salt.
Squeeze as much water out of the cucumbers as you can with your hands.
Squeeze as much water out of the cucumbers as you can with your hands.
The excess water looks like this. Throw it away.
The excess water looks like this. Throw it away.
This is what the cucumbers look like after water has been squeezed out. There should be no water at the bottom of the bowl. Add vinegar and sugar and mix well. Put into the refrigerator and chill.
This is what the cucumbers look like after water has been squeezed out. There should be no water at the bottom of the bowl. Add vinegar and sugar and mix well. Put into the refrigerator and chill.
Serve with sesame seeds if you want to add some color and extra flavor.
Serve with sesame seeds if you want to add some color and extra flavor.

Do You Like Pickles?

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    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Merrci I hope you try them out.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      BriteIdeas definitely try these. They are so easy to make.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      DreamsBloom, oh yes, that tsukemono maker is extremely helpful in making them. Let me know how your tsukemono turns out.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Both recipes looks and sound so good. I'll definitely be trying the pickle recipe. Pinning.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      they sound so good, I could eat this right now!

    • DreamsBloom profile image

      DreamsBloom 3 years ago

      I am so happy to see this article. Although I haven't tried Japanese pickles I have read about them and bought a Kindle book about how to make them and a small tsukemono container (one of those plastic ones with a spring in the lid) from Amazon for making them. I just still haven't taken the plunge to making any. (Although I did use the tsukemono to make sauerkraut once.)

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Mary Crowther , yay! Please let me know how you liked them. Thanks!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Elsie Hagley, let me know how you like them.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Kailua-KonaGirl, thanks so much. Did you try them out yet?

    • Mary Crowther profile image

      Mary Crowther 3 years ago from Havre de Grace

      My family loves pickles and I can't wait to give these recipes a try!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting, I haven't made Japanese Pickles, but have made plenty of pickles vegetables, but not with cucumbers. Must try your recipe, thanks for sharing.

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 3 years ago from New York

      Thanks so much for the pickle recipe using the shiso leaves. I have always wanted to learn how to make them and have been so homesick for them. I make Sunomono pretty often here in NY, but didn't know how to make the other kind. I pinned this lens to my "Veggie Recipe" board on Pinterest. Mahalo nui!

    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 3 years ago

      I do love pickles. Your photos and instructions are superb! Thank you!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @VspaBotanicals: Thank you so much Vspa.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Rosetta Slone: Thank you Pitaya. You know, come to think of it, I've never met a pickle I didn't like either!

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 4 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I've never met a pickle I didn't like. These look so delicious.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @merfzel: Aww thanks merfzel. By the way, I love your collection of lenses. I think I've gone through half of them. Hope you're having an awesome day.

    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I love pickles, but apparently I didn't read very well b/c I bombed your quiz :( lol great lens! I like how you dive into some personal history and memories.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Rhonda Lytle: Thank you for your comments. Yes they really are good. Easy to make too!

    • Rhonda Lytle profile image

      Rhonda Lytle 4 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      Those pickled cucumbers look yummy!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @josietook: aww thanks so much!

    • josietook profile image

      josietook 4 years ago

      Great lens and fab Zazzle products!!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Minoru10: Glad you do Minoru. They do taste better than the regular kind.

    • Minoru10 profile image

      Michael Yoshinaka 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Love your lens !!! I enjoy Japanese cucumbers !!!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @askformore lm: Thanks so much for your comment!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @notsuperstitious1: Great! Let me know how it turns out!

    • askformore lm profile image

      askformore lm 4 years ago

      Thank you for a very tasty lens!

    • notsuperstitious1 profile image

      Edith Rose 4 years ago from Canada

      Going try this recipe.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @anonymous: Aww thanks so much! Much appreciated!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      i love your lens, bookmarking it,

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Elyn MacInnis: Hi Elynmac. Yes the variety of pickles here is astounding and varies on the region. You are right about the good bacteria. Have a great day!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @RinchenChodron: Yay! Me too!

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 4 years ago

      I love cucumbers prepared any way!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I love the pickle stores in Japan - with piles of different veggies in different colors - they seem to like coloring their veggies. Pickles have good bacteria in them and help establish good digestion. Good stuff!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @burntchestnut: I wish my dad made pickles for me! You're so lucky!!! :) Thanks so much for sharing and visiting my lens.

    • profile image

      burntchestnut 4 years ago

      I love pickles. When we were kids, our dad would make whole cucumber dill pickles in a big earthen ware crock in the basement. I don't remember how long they took, but he would let us go down there with him and he would let us taste one and see if it was picked enough.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Susan Zutautas: That sounds easy and delicious susan. Thanks so much for commenting.

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Your recipes look great! I often will slice a cucumber and cover it in vinegar for a side dish. Looking forward to trying your recipes.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Dusty2 LM: OHhh pickles with frittata! Never thought of that! Thanks for the suggestions as I'll be having that for brunch tomorrow! Cheers and thanks.

    • Dusty2 LM profile image

      Dusty2 LM 4 years ago

      This lens brings back many memories as a youngster. I remember growing cucumbers and putting up crock pot after crock pot of pickles because we ate them like candy. Today, I still enjoy spicy hot pickles to snack on. When the pickles are gone I enjoy the pickle juice after. Appreciate you sharing your recipes. Thank You for stopping by my Easy Frittata with Fresh Spring Vegetables lens and giving it a "thumbs up" as i really appreciate it. You will find pickles goes quite well with the frittata sliced on the side. Bon Appetit!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @julieannbrady: Thanks for your comment JaguarJulie. My mom only made me Japanese pickles but I love any kind of pickles really. It's just so refreshing to me.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 4 years ago

      I can't get enough of them -- my mom used to make the best crock pot pickles when I was a kid.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Mobley5: Thanks so much for your comment.

    • profile image

      Mobley5 4 years ago

      I love pickled cucumbers - the Cucumber Sunomomo looks delicious and so easy to make!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @vio 123: Thanks so much for your comment vio. cheers!

    • vio 123 profile image

      vio 123 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing the recipe!

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Jogalog: I'm actually in a pickle phase myself. I am going to try pickling cucumbers in miso. Thanks for the comment!

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 4 years ago

      I love experimenting with making pickles. I love pickled gherkins.

    • smine27 profile image
      Author

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      @Lorelei Cohen: Aww thanks so much for your comment!

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      I love that "I'm kind of a big dill". That is cute. My daughter ate gallons of pickles when she was a tween and teen. Not sure why but she was crazy about them and probably still is. I love garlic pickles oh yum.