With just a few simple ingredients, you can make this crunchy and refreshing Japanese Pickled Cucumbers to serve alongside your meal.
Today I want to share the easy Japanese Pickled Cucumbers (Tsukemono) that you can make at home with ingredients you already have in the kitchen – salt and sugar (and preferably Japanese karashi mustard). There are so many ways to make Japanese pickles and this is just one recipe that we enjoy regularly at our house.
Varieties of Pickles in Japan
Tsukemono (漬物) or Japanese pickles are an essential part of the Japanese diet. They are served typically with a meal, alongside rice and miso soup. Pickles are used as a garnish, relish, or digestive food. It is also considered as a palate-cleansing side dish or we call Hashi Yasume (箸休め), literally meaning “chopstick rest” in Japanese.
Varieties of Tsukemono in Japan
Salt (shiozuke 塩漬け)
The simplest and most common types of pickles with the crisp texture and mild flavor of fresh vegetables. Pickled Japanese plums (umeboshi) used in onigiri (rice ball) are one example of the shiozuke.
Rice Bran (nukazuke 糠漬け)
Whole vegetables are fermented in a mixture of roasted rice bran (the hard outer skin of rice that is removed when polishing the rice grain), salt, kombu, and other ingredients from a day to several months. The pickles are crisp, salty, and tangy.
Sake Lees (kasuzuke 粕漬け)
Pickles preserved in a mixture of sake lees (the yeast mash that is left over after filtering sake), salt, sugar, and mirin ranging from several days to several years. The pickles have a strong alcohol flavor and smell especially when it’s pickled for a long time.
Soy Sauce (shoyuzuke 醤油漬け)
Pickles are preserved in soy sauce-based marinade and have various flavors. Some are light colors with crispy texture while others are dark colors with a salty and sweet taste. Fukujinzuke (relishes served with Japanese curry) is one example of shoyuzuke.
Vinegar (suzuke 酢漬け)
Pickles brined in rice vinegar resulting in a crunchy texture and sweet and sour flavor.
Miso (misozuke 味噌漬け)
Similar to nukazuke, this method uses similar vegetables like cucumbers, carrots, and eggplant. Whole vegetables are covered with miso. The pickles have salty complex miso flavor with a crisp texture.
What Kind of Cucumber to Use for Japanese Pickled Cucumbers
I recommend using Japanese cucumbers or Persian cucumbers to make this pickles recipe.
They’re crunchier and don’t have a lot of seeds in the middle. The cucumbers are best when you pickle them for 1-2 days, but you can certainly pickle for just a few hours. Cool, crisp with a nice crunch, these Japanese pickled cucumbers make a wonderful counterpart to any grilled dishes in the summer. Once you try it, you will be hooked.
If you don’t like cucumbers and prefer other alternatives, you can replace cucumbers with napa cabbage, cabbage, carrot, celery, turnip (kabu in Japanese), and eggplant. Depends on the vegetable, adjust the pickling time to your preferred taste. Choose a vegetable and enjoy making pickles to serve with rice this week.
Other Palate Cleansers
We eat pickles between dishes to change the flavors and textures of dishes and to refresh our palate. Besides pickles, Chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), Sunomono (a light salad made with sweet and sour vinaigrette), Aemono (vegetable, meat, or seafood dressed up in some sauce), and Suimono (soup) are also considered Hashi Yasume.
Japanese Pickled Cucumbers
- 2 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (0.4 oz, 10 g)
- 3 Tbsp sugar (1.1 oz, 30 g)
- ½ tsp Japanese karashi hot mustard (0.1 oz, 4 g; optional; You can substitute with Chinese mustard powder or Colman’s English mustard which are made from a hot, yellow variety of mustard seed similar to Japanese mustard.)
- 3 Japanese or Persian cucumbers (9.2 oz, 261 g)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Combine salt, sugar, and Japanese karashi mustard in the sealable plastic storage bag and mix well together.
- Cut ½ inch off the ends of the cucumbers. Rub the ends together to get rid of bitter taste.
- Put the cucumbers in the bag and squeeze out the air, close the bag tightly. Rub the cucumbers well with the mixture. Pickle for a few hours (my preferred taste) or up to 1-2 days in the refrigerator.
To Serve and Store
- When the cucumbers are ready, discard the liquid and slice the cucumber before serving. Store the cucumbers in the refrigerator and consume within 2-3 days after removing from the pickle solution.