Tsukemono

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

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

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