I’ve been wanting a Japanese pickle press for a while, but all of the ones I’ve seen have been pretty big and I feared they’d take up too much room in my refrigerator and make far more pickles than two people could reasonably eat. I probably could never make too many traditional dill pickles for Mark to consume, but I generally intend tsukemono to accompany a single meal and only need two servings at a time. So when I saw a small press at Soko Hardware in San Francisco’s Japantown last weekend, I snatched it up. I also picked up a tsukemono recipe book, Easy Japanese Pickling in Five Minutes to One Day. This book is not completely vegan, but it is mostly so.
Many Japanese pickles are made by extracting excess water from veggies by applying weights to them. The plastic pickle presses you can find in Japanese markets (or online) work by applying pressure in the form of a spring that clamps a lid down onto the pickles. A special press is not at all necessary, however. In fact, this particular book describes how not to use a press. Instead, it suggests placing the pickle ingredients into a bowl, covering with plastic wrap, and using cans or other weights to press the pickles.
I chose a simple pickle (most of them, in fact, are quite simple) last night, using my new press instead of the cans-in-a-dish method recommended by the book. The pickle press simply eliminates a little extra work (and plastic wrap, which I try to avoid) and also provides easy storage of leftovers.
Nakata-Style Cabbage Pickle
400 grams cabbage (check out that “baby” cabbage I got at Wegmans! It weighed 412 grams: perfect!)
2 tsp salt
2-3 Tbsp water
1/2 carrot, julienned
30 shiso leaves (I used fewer, but was very glad to be able to trim my rampant shiso plant, which for some reason is not only not dead, but thriving)
Core the cabbage.
In the words of the book, “Slice to fit a small rectangular container.” Their pickles ended up retaining layers, looking a bit like a cabbagy petit-four, but I made mine “scattered”, much like the sushi I served it with. So basically I just chopped the cabbage into bite-sized pieces:
Place the cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and water. Mix together using your hands. Let sit for 15-20 minutes to soften.
Meanwhile, julienne the carrot and cut the shiso leaves into bit-sized pieces (I used kitchen shears). When the cabbage is ready, squeeze it dry, then layer in a pickle press (or a rectangular container), alternating with rows of shiso and carrot.
If using a pickle press, put the lid on and tighten the screw as much as possible:
If you don’t have a pickle press, cover the vegetables with plastic wrap, place a small plate or bowl over them, then put a can or other weight onto the plate or bowl.
Let the pickle stand for 30 minutes. Makes six servings.
This was a nice, light, “clean”-tasting accompaniment to our meal, even if it didn’t look as pretty as the picture in the book.