There is a rich tradition of pickling in Japanese cuisine, but much of it is not quite the same way we think of pickled items. Most western pickles are fermented or soaked in brine for at least a week. Many Japanese pickles (tsukemono) are fermented or soaked only for 30 minutes, up to several hours. They retain more of the flavor of the raw item, and just enhance the natural flavor rather than create something totally new. The following method is often used with vegetables you have around the house that are a little past their prime, and maybe wouldn’t be as good on their own anymore, but are still edible.
This is a quick cucumber pickle that we made this weekend. I used two small persian cucumbers, but you can use any type really. It does work the best with cucumbers with tender skin and small seeds, though. If you can find Japanese cucumbers, they are usually thinner and longer than the pickling cucumbers we typically use in the U.S., more like English cucumbers. I added some ginger for extra flavor, you could also add chili powder (togarashi) or sesame seeds – or really anything you think would taste good with them. If you have or can get kombu, adding it to the pickle adds some flavor, and also thickens the brine a bit.
- Heavy Object(s)
- Kombu (optional)
- Thinly slice the ginger, then julienne it, so it’s in small, thin pieces.
- Put the ginger in a bowl (or in multiple bowls depending on how much you’re making), and lightly salt it. Toss it to distribute the salt.
- Thinly slice the cucumbers.
- Put the cucumbers in your bowl(s).
- Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt, and then toss them lightly to distribute the salt.
- Let everything sit for about 10 minutes until the cucumbers start to glisten with moisture.
- Starting gently and increasing pressure, work the salt well into the cucumbers, and begin to use enough pressure to squeeze a fair amount of liquid out of the cucumbers.
- If you have kombu, cut about 1 inch square(s), and put it (them) in the bottom of the bowl(s).
- Find a heavy object or objects that are nearly the same diameter as your bowl(s). I used mason jars full of water.
- Put plastic wrap on the bottom of said heavy object, and then place it on top of the cucumbers, so that it’s pressing them down.
- Let sit at room temperature for about 2-3 hours.
- Remove the kombu and discard it.