One of my fondest memories from childhood was sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of the night, sitting on the cold marble floor, basking in the glow of the refrigerator light eating pickles with a tiny fork. You see, my parents had this rule that I wasn’t allowed to eat more than three pickles in one sitting. Or maybe it was two. In any case, whatever number they picked was too small, because I absolutely loved pickles. I still do.
So the only way I got to eat more pickles (ignoring the cautions that too much vinegar from the pickles would make my stomach hurt – and that pickles are expensive so it is best to make them last a week or so by only eating a couple a day), I would sneak to the refrigerator at awkward hours of the day to snack on them. I even froze the juice a couple times in an ice cube tray and ate them like popsicles.
Mom, Dad, if you’re reading this now (of course you are, you’re my parents), I’m sorry. Sort of.
The whole point of this story was to emphasize the degree I love pickles. So when I came to Japan and realized I couldn’t get pickles, I was heartbroken.
Then my fiancé, Ryosuke’s, father gave me my first bag of Tsukemono (漬物) or “Pickled vegetables.” Tsukemono are exactly what they sound like, various forms of pickled vegetables, ranging from cucumbers (きゅうり ) to Japanese radish (大根) to Kabu turnip (株) to really any other kind of vegetable you can imagine.
All throughout summer I ate cucumber Tsukemono with nearly every meal. Then summer ended and cucumbers went out of season. So I switched to eggplant and radish tsukemono. Now, in the middle of winter, I’m snacking on radish and turnip tsukemono.
It’s a sort of running joke with Ryosuke’s family how much I love tsukemono. Some of my Japanese friends also make fun of me – but they’re nice enough to make me a batch or two every once and a while. Each batch is different – because each person uses different ingredients.
Last weekend Ryosuke’s father taught me how to make tsukemono. He thought that was only fair, considering how much I eat them. So I took some pictures so that I could teach the rest of you. It’s a fairly short and easy process.
How to make Asazuke Tsukemono (浅漬け漬物) “Picked Vegetables” at home
What you will need:
- cutting board
- large bowl
- radish, cucumbers, turnips, ect
- Find some vegetables. These vary depending on the season, but you can use cucumber, kabu, radish, eggplant, or hakusai.
- Cut the vegetables. I tend to like my Tsukemono thick, so that I can eat a lot of them in one sitting, without eating too much salt. The thinner you cut them, the saltier each will be. Put everything in a large mixing bowl
- Cut more vegetables. Who wants only one kind of tsukemono? Mix it up a bit. Add those into the bowl too.
- Finely cut the top part of the Daikon radish (or a similar, edible plant) and add it into the mixing bowl. This step is optional. Its only purpose is to sort of “dye” the otherwise white Daikon radish/Kabu a light green color that looks “fun to eat.” (Ryosuke’s father’s words)
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of salt. I told you it was salty. You kind of have to just wing it, because each person prepares it differently according to their tastes. Add a couple tablespoons of water, if needed.
- Mix everything thoroughly together for around three minutes with your hands. Try to “break” the walls of the leafy green vegetable you added, so that the coloring seeps out. You really can’t mix/mash the vegetables TOO much.
- Scoop everything into this press. If you don’t have one (like me), you can put all the vegetables in a bucket and place rocks (or some other weight) at the top. The whole purpose of this step is to create an environment that exerts pressure on the chopped vegetables. There should be some salty water at the bottom of the mixing bowl (from before). Add about half of the water, depending on how salty you want the tsukemono to be.
- Wait a couple hours.
- Test your tsukemono. It should be salty, crunchy, and downright delicious. If not, leave it in the bucket with more weight for a little longer. Using this device and pressing Daikon radish and Kabu, it only two about an hour and a half to make excellent tsukemono.
- Store in a plastic container.
- Eat with rice. Or just out of the container while watching tv. If you close your eyes, it’s almost exactly like eating (slightly less salty and vinegary) pickles.
(PS – Ryosuke and I eventually did find pickles later at an import store. We got a jar of 20 on sale for around 5 US$. They lasted a couple days, maybe.)
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