I love tsukemono. For those of you not familiar with this category of Japanese cuisine, tsukemono can be loosely translated as “pickles.” But calling tsukemono pickles is really kind of a misnomer. Tsukemono are items that have been marinated using some sort of pickling liquid (the liquid can vary from vinegar to plain salt to rice bran). Unlike the pickles we are used to, they tend to be highly perishable, and are made to be eaten within a few days. Tsukemono are served as the final course at a Japanese dinner, though often they are on the table for the entire meal at home. Some are served as a garnish, while others are served more like a salad. There are hundreds of variations of tsukemono, and the best part is that many of them are easy to make. One of my favorite tsukemono is kyuri asa-zuke, or Japanese cucumbers that have been lightly pickled. Kyuri asa-zuke are often sold at Japanese matsuri (festivals) whole and on sticks.
(Enjoying kyuri asa-zuke on a stick at a matsuri in Tokyo back in 2007.)
This recipe for kyuri asa-zuke is adapted from a recipe given to me by my dear friend Yoshiko, who I worked with in Tokyo. I used mini seedless cucumbers because Japanese cucumbers are harder to come by without making a special trip to a Japanese grocery store. Japanese cucumbers are thinner than the fat garden cucumbers most of the supermarkets sell here in the US. They have a thin skin that doesn’t need to be peeled and very inconspicuous seeds. If you can’t find Japanese cucumbers, you can substitute an English cucumber, mini seedless cucumbers, or a garden cucumber that has been peeled and seeded.
These tsukemono are so easy and are a wonderful refreshing snack or side to a meal. All you do is wash and dry your cukes, then rub them with sea salt and cut them into slices.
Then you pack the slices into a glass jar,
pour the marinade over them and cover the top of the jar with plastic wrap, and then screw the lid in place. The plastic wrap prevents the vinegar from touching the metal of the lid (which will affect the flavor of the pickles).
After 12 hours in the fridge, the pickles are ready to eat!
Kyuri Asa-zuke (Japanese Lightly Pickled Cucumbers)
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 1/2 inches kombu, cut into thin shreds with kitchen shears
7 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1. Wash the cucumbers and pat them dry. Rub the cucumbers with the salt, then cut them into 1/2-inch slices and place in a glass pint-sized jar. If the pieces don’t all fit, you can remove pieces and gently press down on the pieces in the jar to make them fit. Add the kombu to the jar.
2. Mix the water, vinegar, and sugar together in a separate container and then pour the mixture over the cucumbers. Cover the top of the jar with plastic wrap, and then screw the lid in place. The plastic wrap prevents the vinegar from touching the metal of the lid (which will affect the flavor of the pickles).
4. Put the cucumbers in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 12 hours. She the jar up and down occasionally so the marinade penetrates the cucumber slices well. Each time you take cucumber slices out of the jar, make sure and reseal it with the plastic wrap before replacing the lid.
* You can also add soy sauce, chili pepper, or sesame oil to the marinade according to your tastes.