How to make pickles - Japanese Style
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.
I Want To Know
Have You Ever Tried Japanese Pickles?
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?
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.
- 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
- Prepare the mixture by combining vinegar, water, salt and sugar.
- MIx until the ingredients are combined and keep in a shallow container.
- Cut the cucumbers into sticks. Put the cucumber sticks and shiso leaves into the liquid.
- 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
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.
- 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?
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.