You know when you’re introduced to a new-to-you concept or word, feel particularly interested in its existence and then see it everywhere, even places you know you’ve looked before? This is what happened to me last year with tsukemono, traditional Japanese pickles. My brain clicked in on them last year when I bought Karen Solomon’s ebook, Asian Pickles: Japan. It was a revelation for me. This is kind of embarrassing, because after my fascination with a few, specific tsukemono techniques developed, I referred back to two important, well-worn books on my cookbook shelf wondering why they hadn’t covered the topic in-depth and I was surprised to see that they were prominently featured (if you’re wondering, the two books were The Art of Fermentation and Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions). I now vaguely remember reading about nuka-dokos and and amazake beds and kojizuke and kasusuke all those years ago. Who knows why? Maybe I was so submerged in the brine of lactopickles at the time that my eyes were closed to pickles of the cultured variety.
But the time for Japanese pickles is here, in my house and in my life. I am continuing to have that “you’ve been here all this time?” sensation, and every time I make a batch of ‘zuke, I feel more and more grateful to Asian Pickles for awakening my interest.
The best part is that these pickles are extremely diverse. Some require a massively long fermentation time and lots of prep, others give new meaning to the term “quick pickle” taking 5 minutes from start to finish. With most, you have some discretion, something we, the fermenters adore. I borrow techniques and ideas and then do what works best for me and my family. I recommend that you do the same!
If you’re using a very watery vegetable, you’ll probably want to salt it first to draw out the water. Then rinse and squeeze all excess water out before you proceed with the recipe.
What vegetables should you use? The market, or your garden, is the limit! I have yet to try something I didn’t at least like. And quality of miso definitely matters here. I’ve used homemade for a few batches and they were indeed superior, but as my homemade miso is precious, like a tiny, mewling puppy that I hold to my breast and protect with all of my being, I do frequently use store-bought miso to make these. Just find the best quality miso you can for both flavor and microbial benefit.
Adapted from Karen Solomon’s Asian Pickles: Japan
Two things about this miso bed. You can have fun by adding powdered spices (try a couple teaspoons per cup of miso) instead of the garlic and ginger and playing around with different vegetables. Also, importantly, you can reuse this miso bed many times before it gets a bit watery and flavorless. At that point, I throw it into some soup. It won’t be like adding actual miso, but it will have enough left in it to bring a little salt and seasoning.
- 1 cup red miso
- 3 tablespoons mirin (you can substitute sake)
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 inch of peeled ginger, minced
- 1 cup vegetable of your choice, peeled and sliced (a few great choices: beets, carrots, rhubarb, radishes, turnips, rutabaga)
- If pre-salting vegetables, do it first, while you mix your miso bed.
- Thoroughly mix together first four ingredients.
- In a small, glass container, such as a 2-3 cup pyrex dish, place about half of the miso mixture.
- Place vegetables on top of the mixture, and thoroughly cover them with the remaining half of the miso mixture. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap.
- Let the vegetables sit for 2 hours-3 weeks. Vegetables at 3 weeks will be wilted, altered in texture and thoroughly infused with the flavors of the mixture. Vegetables at 2 hours will be quite flavorful but not substantially altered in texture.
- Remove vegetables from the miso mixture and give them a rinse. It’s best to consume them quickly, but they’ll do well in the fridge for a couple of days.
- Either reuse your miso bed immediately with fresh vegetables or cover tightly and put it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it again, within a week.