Sides

Japanese Pickles (Tsukemono 漬物)

Pickles are an integral part of Japanese cuisine. Eaten with virtually every meal, pickles provide balance of flavour or are used as a palate cleanser, as is the case when eating sushi. Also considered a key element to maintaining a healthy diet, it should come as not surprise that the Japanese are somewhat fanatical about their pickles!

Commonly referred to as tsukemono, there is seemingly no end to what the Japanese will pickle or preserve! Often eaten as a side dish or as a garnish, virtually no vegetable is safe from being salted and preserved, but daikons, carrots, cucumbers and Chinese (napa) cabbage are firm favourites. The Japanese’s love of pickles is not limited to their own, Korean staples such as kimchi are also readily served as part of a Japanese meal, although such spicy preserves are a departure from your typical tsukemono.

In terms of tsukemono as a condiment or garnish, beni shoga is perhaps the most commonly eaten pickle in Japan. Made by pickling ginger in red umeboshi brine, it is almost always used as a garnish on okonomiyaki, gyūdon and yakisoba. Outside of Japan though, the most likely form of tsukemono you’ll encounter is gari, which is ubiquitous with sushi and sashimi, although you are unlikely to find the lumo-pink version in Japan, where gari is normally a less alarming beige.

Whilst a bewildering array of tsukemono can be readily bought in Japanese supermarkets, many Japanese still go to the effort of making their own. Thankfully, making your own tsukemono it is actually quite straightforward, usually all you need is some salt and time. Typically the preserving process can take quite a while to complete, however, mercifully, some Japanese pickles take considerably less time to make. Known as asazuke, these pickles can be ready to eat in a matter of hours, if not less. Often less salty than tsukemono that have been fully preserved, these “shallow” pickles are actually more palatable to Western tastes.

With that in mind, here are some of my favourite, must-have, Japanese pickles (please follow the links for the recipes):

Quick Cucumber & Ginger Pickle

Quick Cucumber & Ginger Pickle

Beni Shoga

Daikon & Carrot Pickle

Napa Cabbage Kimchi

Napa Cabbage Kimchi

Wasabi-pickled Cucumbers

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst all of the above recipes are relatively quick and easy to make, with pickling times ranging from an hour to a few days, all would make worthy additions to any Japanese meal. Whether it be a full-on feast or a humble bowl of gyūdon, no true Japanese meal would be complete without just a small nibble of tsukemono!

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Wasabi-pickled Cucumber

This a quick and simple Japanese pickle which makes a great addition to any Japanese meal. You can either use gherkin, Israeli, Kirby or small Mediterranean cucumbers for this recipe, but not the English variety as it is too watery.

Feel free to add more wasabi if you like it hot!

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Duck Fat Roast Potatoes

Roast PotatoesLife’s too short to suffer bad roast potatoes, but thankfully I wouldn’t know because mine are pretty awesome!

A tad conceited perhaps, but my roast potatoes almost never fail to come out golden, delicious and with that all important “crunch”!

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lone “trick” to making the perfect roast potato, but rather a series of simple, yet essential, steps that yield the desired result. Parboiling the potatoes in heavily salted water is a vitally important part of the recipe, so don’t be tempted to skip it.

Arguably the most important factor in making your roast potatoes is, however, the fat you chose to cook them in. There are a variety of options out there, but I prefer using duck fat. Healthy and relatively easy to source, duck fat makes for great results!

Click here for the recipe

Beni Shōga (Red Ginger Pickle) 紅生姜

Beni ShogaPopularly served with donburi (rice-bowls) such as gyūdon and katsudon, beni shōga is perhaps one of the most common pickles found in Japan.

Unlike most other Japanese pickles, beni shōga is, in fact, eaten more like a condiment than a side dish. Much like one would expect to find an obligatory bottle of ketchup on a table in the Western-style dinner, many Japanese eateries have bowls of beni shōga for their patrons to pile onto their donburi. It is so readily available throughout Japan, these slithers of red ginger are (to my mind at least) synonymous with a wide range of my favourite Japanese dishes, so much so, none of which taste the same without it. Unfortunately, beni shōga is very hard to find outside of Japan – something that I find deeply frustrating given its integral role in so many Japanese dishes.

My irritation with the lack of authentic Japanese ingredients available in the rest of the world is compounded, in part, by the continued popularity of the lumo-pink version of gari that has become a plague upon Japanese cuisine in the West. Not only is our beloved “garish-gari” a pickled aberration not found in Japan (where it’s a considerably less alarming beige), it has also served to limit our appreciation and expectations of the diversity of Japanese food. Next time you top your sushi with that Barbie-pink slice of ginger, please give a pause to consider the other amazing taste experiences that have been side-lined in the attempt to repackage and homogenise Japanese food for Western tastes. Our ever developing palettes deserve diversity and until we put down our salmon nigiri and demand better, simple delights like beni shōga will forever be beyond our common reach.

With all that said, what’s a man to do? Well if you are me, you’ve just got to make your own beni shōga, of course!

After resolving to take my pickle-destiny into my own hands, I discovered that making my own beni shōga may not seem as impossible as I first assumed. Other than the standard pickling liquid, the lay-men’s  recipe really just has two ingredients – ginger and umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums). Luckily, umeboshi also features in Chinese cuisine and is therefore relatively easy to source locally. Pickled red from the juices of the Japanese plum (ume), the ginger does take a bit of time to take on the colour from the plums, but the end result is a pretty close approximation to the real thing. It may not be perfect, but given the scarcity of beni shōga outside Japan, who would really know the difference anyway!

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Japanese Daikon & Carrot Pickle

Daikon & Carrot PickleNo Japanese meal would be complete without a pickle (or two), and this classic asazuke (quick pickle) will make a great addition to any meal.

Incredibly tasty and ready to eat in just under an hour, daikon & carrot pickle is sure to become a regular household staple.

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Quick Cucumber & Ginger Pickle

Quick Cucumber and Ginger Pickle

Sweet and crunchy, this pickle is quick and easy, complimenting just about any Japanese meal.

The pickle takes at least a couple of hours in the fridge to work its magic, but after that it should keep for at least a few days before losing its texture and crunch.

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Nước Chấm (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)

Nước Chấm (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce): Makes 2 cups

  • 1 cup (250ml) water
  • 4 tbsp. white sugar
  • 6 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 6 tbsp. white rice vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 red bird’s eye chilli, sliced
  • 4 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 small carrot, peeled (optional)

Method: Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

  1. If using, finely grate the carrot and mix with a little salt. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then rinse and the squeeze to remove any excess liquid
  2. In a sauce pan, bring the water to a boil. Add the fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and garlic, chillies, carrots and lime juice

Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Đồ Chua)

Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Đồ Chua)A classic Vietnamese pickle that goes with just about everything and can be found throughout Vietnam. Đồ Chua, however, goes especially well with sweet dishes like Braised Pork in Coconut Water (Thịt Kho Tàu), as the sharp pickle helps cut through the pervasive sweetness and creates an element of balance in the meal.

Quick and simple, this pickle can be made and eaten on the same day or it will last for a couple of weeks if kept in the fridge.

Click here for the recipe

Sambal Kangkong

Sambal KangkongIn a cuisine not known for its prominent use of vegetables, there are few other Malaysian vegetable dishes that are so revered and cherished as this classic Nyonya dish! In fact, ask any Malaysian’s what their favourite vegetable dish is and most would probably lick their lips and tell you that it’s sambal kangkong! Made with lots of chillies, dried shrimps and a good dollop of belacan, this dish is as fragrant as it is hot and is not for the fainthearted or the nasally sensitive!

Sambal kangkong is a dish that has always reminded me of home – its heady fragrance and robust flavours are irrepressibly Malaysian and just the thought of it makes my mouth water in anticipation! Indeed, this is a dish that elicits passionate cravings in many of my fellow countrymen, myself included. Since leaving Malaysia, I’ve been slightly obsessed with recreating sambal kangkong, but it has always been a dish that was out of reach for the simple reason that I couldn’t source the key ingredient – kangkong. Also known as water spinach, water morning glory or water convolvulus, kangkong is readily available throughout South East Asia where it grows within the local waterways with an almost weed-like voracity. In spite of its endemic abundance regionally, it remains stubbornly difficult to find in the rest of the world. Whilst you can make a similar dish with green beans, sadly it is a poor substitute and there really isn’t any alternative vegetable that comes close to replacing kangkong.

Like all Malaysian expats, when I first moved to Cape Town I had a mental list of all the food items that I prayed would eventually find their way onto the local shelves. Mostly made up of Asian staples and childhood favourites, the list was extensive and largely amounted to wishful thinking! I’m happy to report, however, that over the years I have managed to find almost everything on that list, kangkong included! Along with finding IndoMee and Lingham’s Chilli Sauce in Cape Town, I was delighted to be able to cross this exotic leafy green off my list!

Now I just need to find petai locally and I’ll be, culinarily speaking, complete. 

As with most other Asian cuisines, it is virtually impossible to find a definitive recipe for any Malaysian dish and sambal kangkong is no different. Generally speaking most sambal kangkong recipes list the same basic ingredients, but in varying quantities. How much you decide to use of any particular item is entirely down to your own preference and tolerances, so feel free to play around with the quantities.

Click here for the recipe

Ingen no goma-ae いんげんのごま (Green Beans in Sesame Dressing)

This is one of my favourite Japanese ways to serve vegetables – it is simple, quick to make and utterly delicious!

imageThe key to the dish is toasting the sesame seeds, this adds a taste and aroma that marries perfectly with the sweetness of the dressing. Just be careful not to burn the seeds, as this will make the dish bitter. Of course, this dressing can also be used with other types of vegetables, like tender-stem broccoli, asparagus or even carrots to name just a few. Whatever your preferred vegetable though, it is vital that you cook them until just al dente.

Variations: Half a tablespoon of miso paste can also be added to the sesame dressing, however I would reduce the amount of soya sauce, as the miso will make the dish saltier.

Note: The sesame dressing makes a great onigiri filling, especially if you’ve added the miso paste!

For more Japanese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Japanese Pantry, please click HERE

Click here for the recipe