Pickles of another sort

Pickles by definition are vegetables and fruits - or in the case of pig’s feet, meat - preserved in a brine. (Not recommending or suggesting those - just mentioning). According to Cook’s Illustrated (Sept/Oct 1994 p. 18-19), brine usually consists of a vinegar based solution containing salt, sugar and other flavorings. The vinegar provides the acidity (ranging from 4 to 7.9% depending on the type) necessary to preserve the food of choice by hampering bacteria growth. Cook’s illustrated has an entire page of pickle plans including the more traditional cucumbers, pearl onions, okra and even turnips and fennel. I, however, am fond of making Japanese pickles known as Tsukemono.

My go-to guide for these is Easy Japanese Pickling in Five Minutes to One Day: 101 Full-Color Recipes for Authentic Tsukemono. This line of cookbooks is the best in my opinion. I have the easy Tsukemono, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Korean and use them all regularly. The directions are user friendly and simply laid out and the pictures really help pinpoint the correct ingredients when shopping in a somewhat confusing Asian grocery.

The Tsukemono book is unique in that it divides the recipes by seasonal availability. Japan, I learned while living there, has very specific seasons when it comes to fruits and vegetables – more so than here in the United States. Yes, on the rare occasion, one can find out of season produce (for a hefty price). Generally, though, fruits and veggies are only available for perhaps a month or two out of the year. For example, momo (peaches) are found July/August, kaki (persimmons) and nashi (Asian pear) are fall fruits, and mikan (mandarin oranges) are available in the early winter.

Cucumbers, bell peppers, green beans, and okra are among the recommended summer fare and are fortunately (and not coincidentally) widely available right now, so I decided to make some Japanese misozuke cucumbers and Korean zucchini namul.

Misozuke Cucumbers
2 cucumbers sliced into ¼ rounds
3/4C Miso (7 ounces by weight)
2T mirin

-Mix miso and mirin well
-Layer on plastic wrap 1/3 miso mixture, paper towel, ½ cucumber slices, paper towel, 1/3 miso, paper towel, ½ cucumbers, paper towel, 1/3 miso
-Wrap tightly with more plastic wrap and let stand 2-6 hours

The recipe in the book actually calls for thin sliced sticks of celery - not cucumbers - but this style of cooking lends itself nicely to mix and match. It would probably be good with any firm veggie like carrots or zucchini. Speaking of zucchini, I made one of my favorite Korean vegetable “side-dishes” (namul) last night with two medium sized zucchini.

Zucchini Namul
2 medium or 4 small zucchini (about a pound)
1/2t garlic powder (can be made with fresh, but I prefer powder for this dish)
1t sugar
3T soy sauce

2T toasted sesame oil

-Slice each squash in half lengthwise, then into cut into 1/4-inch thick half-circles.
-Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the squash, return to a boil and let cook for 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again.
-Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.
-Add the squash and toss to coat well.

-Let set for 30 minutes to an hour, tossing ocassionally, and serve at room temperature.

(Note – Keep sesame oil in the refrigerator to preserve flavor and prevent it from getting rancid)

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