When we eat Washoku (和食), a traditional Japanese meal with rice and miso soup, we almost always serve a small dish of Japanese pickles called Tsukemono (漬物).
Tsukemono (漬物, literally translates to “pickled things”) are Japanese preserved vegetables that are usually pickled in salt, brine or a bed of rice bran called nuka.
During a meal, Tsukemono cleanses the palate and provides refreshment to counter the other flavorful dishes. It also offers color, texture and fragrance to a meal. In fact, it is sometimes also called konomono (Kho no mono, 香の物) or “fragrant things”.
Introducing “Asazuke” A Quick Tsukemono
In Japan, all types of tsukemono are available at grocery stores and specialty stores; however many people make Asazuke (浅漬け) at home, which is “quick pickling”. I serve this type of tsukemono with steamed rice and miso soup for my traditional Japanese meals.
Among the different types of Asazuke, shio-zuke (塩漬け) or salt pickles is one of the easiest pickles to make. With shio-zuke, vegetables are salted first, then heavy object is placed upon vegetables. The pressure causes the vegetables to release liquids, and the vegetables are pickled in the brine. Making shio-zuke usually requires just a few hours; therefore it’s a popular pickles for home cooks.
Keep in mind that asazuke typically needs to be consumed within 2-3 days as it’s pickled in very small amount of salt that’s not enough to keep it for a longer time without spoiling.
What can I make into Tsukemono?
There are quite a bit of ingredient options for making tsukemono. I personally like using vegetables like cabbage, napa cabbage, cucumbers, eggplants, daikon radish, turnips, gobo (burdock root), carrots, ginger and more. What I recommend is pickle 1 to 2 ingredients at a time. When I make my own vegetable tsukemono, I know it’s fresh and absolutely love the crispy texture!
How much salt to add?
My general rule of thumb for Asazuke is to add 2% of salt to the weight of vegetables. To make the calculation easy, remember 1 tsp. of salt is about 5 grams. That means you will need about 250 grams (1/2 lb) of vegetables. In case you don’t own a kitchen scale (I recommend to get a scale at home – a decent one is like $10-15.), it’s roughly the weight of ½ small cabbage. Of course each cabbage size is different, so I encourage you to find the weight of vegetables that you buy for this recipe.
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- ½ (10 oz, 280 g) cabbage
- ½ (2 oz, 50 g) Japanese cucumber
- 1 red chili pepper
- 1” x 3” (2.5x7.6 cm) kombu
- 1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- Discard the cabbage core and cut cabbage into 1-2” pieces.
- Cut cucumber in in half and peel. Then cut in half lengthwise and into thin slices diagonally.
- Remove seeds from the red chili (if you prefer less spicy) and cut into rounds.
- Toast kombu over open flame so that the kombu will become tender and easier to cut into thin strips.
- Put all the ingredients in the airtight plastic bag and add 1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt.
- Rub with hands until the cabbage softens. Remove the air and close the plastic bag tightly.
- Place the bag under the heavy object and let it pickled in a cool place or in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
- Once the cabbage is pickled, take out and squeeze the excess liquid out. You can save it in the refrigerator up to 1-2 days.
- Sprinkle white sesame seeds and drizzle a little bit of soy sauce.