Simple decorative touches on a vegetable can transform a dish from ordinary to special. These pickled chrysanthemum turnips will bring your Osechi Ryori game to the next level. And you only need some basic cutting techniques!
New Year’s Day is the biggest celebration in Japanese culture, and even the pickles get to dress up a little for this special day. You might enjoy pickled turnips on a daily basis, but on the first day of the year, we start with the best – Pickled Chrysanthemum Turnip (Kikka Kabu 菊花かぶ).
What is Pickled Chrysanthemum Turnip (Kikka Kabu)?
These turnips are pickled in rice vinegar, sugar, and kombu. The pickles themselves are just an everyday pickle, but the white flesh of the turnip is meticulously cut to represent the petals of a chrysanthemum flower.
Why Chrysanthemum Flowers?
In addition to being a beautiful flower, the Chrysanthemum, or Kiku (菊) in Japanese, is a symbol that represents longevity and rejuvenation. It was first introduced to Japan during the Nara period (710 – 793 AC).
The Japanese Royal Family was fascinated with the chrysanthemum, and it became the emperor’s crest and official seal called the Imperial Seal of Japan. The chrysanthemum is still a very common symbol in Japan found on Japanese passports and 50 yen coins.
The Chrysanthemum in Food
The Japanese love chrysanthemum and it is used widely in Japanese culture and food. Bright yellow chrysanthemum is often used to garnish sushi and sashimi platters. And in today’s recipe for pickled chrysanthemum turnip, the symbol of the flower is served as a part of the traditional Japanese New Year’s Day food Osechi Ryori. The white and red color of the dish represents the happiness and the flower represents longevity for the coming year.
The crunchy texture, and sweet and sour flavor of the pickle, is a perfectly refreshing Hashiyasume (箸休め) – a small palate-cleansing dish served between courses.
Notes on Pickled Chrysanthemum Turnip
Japanese Turnips: I used Japanese turnips for this recipe as I can purchase these small white turnips in a Japanese grocery store. You can definitely use other types of turnips that are available in your local store. If your turnips are too big, just cut into quarters after a crisscross incision is made.
The Chopstick Trick: You don’t have to use this trick, but it’s REALLY helpful as your knife won’t go through the turnip. Just be careful not to slice through the first and last few vertical slices as the turnip shape is round. A sharp knife is very useful as it slices down easily without much force. I was a bit nervous to slice into 1 mm width in front of the camera, but the more relaxed you are the better the cut. It’s important to make a perpendicular slice so that you don’t cut off the petals.
Dried Red Chili Pepper: You may have noticed that Japanese dishes are not spicy. We use just one red chili pepper WITHOUT seeds in my recipe as well as a majority of Japanese recipes. If you like the pickles to have more of a kick, you are welcome to add more chili peppers including seeds.
Yuzu or Lemon Peel: For decoration, you can also use yuzu or lemon peel as I showed in my photos.
Cooking Trick – Kakushi Bocho 隠し包丁
Kakushi or kakusu means hidden and hide, and Bocho or hocho means a knife. This technique is used so that:
1. The heat will go through the ingredient more easily
2. Flavors (of the broth or seasonings) will be absorbed better
3. The ingredient will be easier to cut with chopsticks
In this recipe, it is used for #2. Turnips are thick, so with the Kakushi Bocho technique, the turnips will better absorb the marinade.
We score the ingredient without making it too visible (so when you serve, it’s not obvious). That’s how the name “kakushi” or “hidden” comes from. You will see this technique used for ingredients that are hard to cook through and absorb flavors such as daikon, eggplant, and konnyaku.
Now that you’ve learned how to make this elegant Pickled Chrysanthemum Turnip adorn your Osechi Ryori, I wish you happiness and longevity for the coming year!
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Pickled Chrysanthemum Turnip (Kikka Kabu)
- 1 dried red chili pepper
- 6 Japanese turnips (kabu)
- 1 Tbsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- 2 cups water
- yuzu peel (or lemon peel; optional garnish)
- Gather all the ingredients. Soak the chili in water to re-hydrate (until Step 9).
- In a medium bowl, add all the marinade ingredients and mix well.
- Cut off the top and bottom of the turnip.
- Peel off the skin of the turnips.
- Make vertical crisscross diagonal incisions from the top of the turnip, spacing 1 mm apart, and be careful not to cut all the way through. Tip: Placing the turnip between a pair of chopsticks prevents the knife from going all the way through the turnip. Repeat with the rest of the turnips.
- Turn the turnip upside down, with the cut side on the bottom. Then make a one crisscross incision (we call it “Kakushi Bocho”) so the turnip will easily absorb the flavors.
- Place the turnips in a large bowl. Add 2 cups (480 ml) of water and 1 Tbsp salt. Soak the turnips for 1 hour.
- Once the turnip is tender, rinse thoroughly in running water, and gently squeeze out the water. Be careful not to damage the fine cuts. Place the turnips in the bowl and add the marinade.
- Thinly slice the red chili pepper and add to the marinade (I do not include the seeds as they are too spicy). Marinade the turnips for at least 1 hour (up to 2 days) to pickle.
- To serve, gently squeeze out the marinade, separate out the “petals” of chrysanthemum. Place the chili slices (and yuzu/lemon peel slices – optional) in the center of the turnip.