Japanese Pickles (Tsukemono): Hakata-Style Cabbage Pickle

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.

Comments (11)

Sushi Bowl

Mark went to a friend’s house tonight, leaving me on my own for dinner. I embrace such evenings as opportunities to eat stuff he won’t eat, so tonight found me flipping through a few cookbooks in search of inspiration. I ended up with Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and found myself intrigued by a very Bittman-esque table of “sushi bowl ideas”, the idea being you take a bowl of sushi rice, add a topping from column A, a sauce from column B, and a garnish from column C. Fast, easy, flexible, and scalable, i.e., good for a one-person meal. The only problem with the whole idea of a sushi bowl is Mark would have loved it. This is the boy who at least once a day claims he’s going on an “all-rice diet” (an idea I keep rejecting: “you need to eat a balanced diet”). Nonetheless I was getting hungry, so sushi bowl it was.

I am a fan of tsukemono, Japanese pickles. I make them sometimes, although not as often as I want to. I mean to start making them more often, but in the meantime, I usually have a few packaged kinds on hand to eat as sides with noodles, my go-to dinner when I don’t feel like really cooking. I have a bunch of such tsukemono in the refrigerator, so I chose that suggestion from Bittman’s column A. In column B for that row was something like “seaweed ‘mayo'”, which I almost completely ignored as I wasn’t about to put mayo on my sushi bowl, even if it DOES sounds like something the Japanese would do. But curiosity got to me and I checked out the recipe for “seaweed ‘mayo'”…and was surprised to find out it was not only vegan, but really just seaweed (arame) pureed with a tiny bit of oil and sake. So I whipped that up.

Column C was slivered scallions in this case, but I also added shredded nori and shredded shiso. To shred the nori and shiso, I rolled each up lengthwise, made two cuts lengthwise on the nori and one on the shiso, then snipped the rolls up into small pieces (like chiffonading).

Sushi Bowl

1 1/2 cups sushi rice, prepared
1/2 cup different kinds of tsukemono (Japanese pickle)
2 Tbsp “seaweed ‘mayo'” or other mild sauce
2 Tbsp chopped scallions
2 Tbsp shredded shiso (optional)
1 Tbsp shredded nori (optional)

Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stovetop and prepare as if for sushi (cut in sushi vinegar and salt to taste). For the sauce, choose something mild that won’t clash with the pickles, but also non-salty (the pickles are really salty, so a soy sauce-based sauce is probably a bad idea). Place the rice in a bowl, top with the tsukemono, then the sauce, then the garnishes.

Serves 1.

Here’s what it looked like after mixing it all up:

I served it with miso soup, which is incredibly easy to pull together. I discussed in an earlier post how to make dashi. Simply soak a piece of kombu in some water for at least half an hour. If you are in a hurry, you can simmer it instead for 15 minutes. Here’s how I usually make miso soup:

Miso Soup

2 cups water
1 3″ piece of kombu
1 tsp dried wakame
1 splash mirin
1 splash seasoned rice vinegar
2 Tbsp light miso
2 Tbsp chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped tofu

Soak the kombu in the water for 1-24 hours (refrigerate if longer than a couple of hours), or, simmer it gently for 15 minutes. Remove kombu. This is the dashi. Rehydrate wakame by soaking in warm water for 10 minutes. It will expand considerably, so don’t use too much and give it enough room. Heat dashi in a small saucepan. Add a splash of mirin and a splash of seasoned rice vinegar. Remove 2 Tbsp of the dashi and place in a small bowl. Set aside. Add the scallions, rehydrated wakame, and tofu to the pot.

Add the miso to the reserved 2 Tbsp of dashi and stir until smooth. Add to the pot.

After adding the miso, do not allow the soup to boil. Serve when it has been warmed through.

Makes two servings.

Brachtune read V For Vendetta while we ate. And by “read”, I mean “licked the cover of”.

Comments (5)

Next entries »