Tsukemono are Japanese pickled vegetables. They are often served with rice as a condiment or in bars with drinks. (pickles make people thirsty!) All sorts of vegetables can be made into tsukemono, including baby eggplant, cucumbers, or even chayote squash, but one of my favorites to make is Daikon radish. These Japanese Pickles are super fast, and give an umami jolt to anything you serve them with.
Any traditional Japanese meal, including breakfast, requires pickles. They are ubiquitous and plentiful. Many times you will see a small beautiful assortment, highlighting seasonal veggies. So you might see cucumbers and eggplant in the summer or cabbage and radish in the winter. Since Japanese people prefer plain unseasoned rice at meals, the accompanying food tends to be more aggressively seasoned. Japanese pickles adds the salty, sour, crunch factor that lifts the meal and makes it more satisfying. So here we go…
Let’s Get Pickling!
Even if you’ve never pickled anything before, these Japanese Pickles are so easy. This is a quick pickle, meant to be consumed within a couple weeks. That means we won’t be worrying about sterilizing jars, sealing lids, fancy canning equipment, or anything intimidating. You can do this, I promise. The one thing you will need though is a sharp knife (or mandoline) to make very thin slices of the daikon radish. (Subscribe and get my free tutorial on how pros sharpen their knives)
While the process for making these quick pickles is similar to making western style cucumber pickles, there are some traditional ingredients that lend incredible savory depth and make them uniquely Japanese. Sometimes I find pickles to just have a harsh, one note, vinegary flavor. Not these! Kombu adds a little briny taste of the ocean, soy sauce brings umami saltiness, and seasoned rice vinegar (which is much more mild in flavor than white vinegar) brings the gentle acidity that pickles the radish.
Daikon radish is used throughout Asia. It looks like an enormous white carrot, and has a very mild and almost sweet flavor. Also, depending on when it is harvested, it can also range from gentle to moderately peppery heat. One medium size radish or half a large one will be enough for this recipe. Start by peeling it, and then slicing it lengthwise into quarters:
Then cut crosswise to make very thin, quarter moon slices:
While the daikon is being salted, occasionally mix and squeeze it to help release moisture. Then it’s time to make the pickle brine. Cut the kombu into small squares, or break it up into smaller pieces with your hands and add them to a bowl with with soy sauce, and rice vinegar. If I have any dashi powder on hand, I’ll add a dash of that, but it’s great without it too.
Then I scoop out the daikon, squeezing out and discarding the extra liquid, and add the radish to the brine.
Once everything is mixed, I pack it into a jar and put in the fridge. The beauty of pickles is that the taste just gets more complex every day. These will keep at least two weeks in the fridge, though in my house they never last that long. Don’t forget to use a clean utensil when scooping it out-no fingers!
Japanese Pickles are excellent on grain bowls, or alongside Short Rib BBQ, Miso Salmon, or just with a bowl of steamed rice. If you’re feeling ambitious, go for a traditional Japanese breakfast with some simple veggies, maybe a fried egg or grilled fish, miso soup, and some pickles! Let us know what uses you find for them by leaving a comment below or tagging us @funkyasiankitchen. We love hearing from you!
- 1 pound daikon radish
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 6 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 piece of kombu 4”x4”
- 1 teaspoon dashi powder (optional)
- Cut the kombu into 4-5 pieces with a pair of scissors. Set aside.
- Peel the daikon and then cut it into quarters lengthwise. Then cut across the daikon to make very thin slices.
- Put the daikon into a bowl and add the salt. Toss the daikon and mix to combine. Let the daikon sit for 30 minutes, mixing and gently squeezing the daikon occasionally to eliminate some moisture and soften the daikon.
- Combine the soy sauce, seasoned rice vinegar, kombu, and dashi powder (if using) in a bowl. Stir to combine and set aside.
- Scoop the daikon in your clean hands and add the daikon to the sauce. Mix to combine. (Discard the daikon juice.)
- Push down on the pickles to eliminate any air pockets. Put the pickles in a clean storage container and refrigerate overnight before eating. The pickles keep for 2 weeks in the fridge.
Keywords: daikon radish, pickles, condiments, japanese