One of the dishes I particularly like is generally called tsukemono, pickled vegetables. When I have had it, tsukemono is typically served as an appetizer at the beginning of the meal. One of the types I really enjoy is a pickled Napa cabbage, called hakusai no shiozuke in Japanese.
It took me a long time to track down a recipe for this tsukemono. For a long time I had no idea what it was called. Finally, one day, a Google search turned up something good in my search for this simple dish. The Instructables site has how-to directions on a lot of things but I didn’t really expect to find food, and especially not my cherished pickled Napa cabbage. Yet, here it was. How could I not try making it?
I find it rather amusing that this dish differs from sauerkraut only in the type of cabbage used and how long it is allowed to ferment. If I’d known it was so easy to make I’d have made gallons of it by now.
You can visit the Instructables site for the hakusai no shiozuke recipe here, and you can also read my brief synopsis of it:
Cut the cabbage, layer it in a container and salt each layer. Put a plate on the top layer and use a weight to hold it down. The salted cabbage will develop a liquid that should cover the cabbage after a day or so. Let it ferment for a couple days and give it a taste. Refrigerate when done and start eating it.
The recipe is a little vague on how much salt to use. It seems as if it’s a personal preference thing. After tasting my dish I think I’ve used a little more salt than I like. It’s better when I rinse the cabbage in fresh water before eating it but I think I’ll use a bit less salt the next time I make this.
After a day had passed the cabbage still hadn’t made enough liquid to cover itself so I mixed a bit of salt water and poured that into the container. Next time I’ll probably use a slightly weaker salt solution if this is necessary.
After rinsing the cabbage and drying it in a salad spinner (new toy!) I sprinkled on a bit of soy sauce and some furikaki (dried fish flakes, sesame seeds, and seasonings - very tasty). I also tried it with some seasoned rice vinegar sprinkled over it. Both were very good.
If you get as caught up with the possibilities of tsukemono as I have you may wish to get a recipe book and a press. Amazon has Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes available as well as Tsukemono presses available in various sizes. When I have a bit of extra money on hand I’ll be getting both.
Here is where we start: fresh Napa cabbage, salt, a fermenting container, and a nice sharp cleaver... hurray, I get to cut stuff!
Laugh all you want about me enjoying cutting things in the kitchen but good tools really makes it a lot of fun. This Chinese pattern cleaver is one of the sharpest tools I have and makes things easy.
We've put the cabbage into the container by layers and salted each layer as it's put in.
It's difficult to see here but I found a clear glass plate to be the best size for this container. I used another plastic container full of water to rest on top of the glass plate to hold the cabbage down. The big secret in fermenting vegetables like this is to keep the vegetables beneath the layer of salt water. You don't want them to be exposed to the air. When the cabbage didn't form enough of its own liquid to cover I just aded in a bit of salt water to cover.
Done and about to undergo the first taste test. The whole cabbage packed into that little seaweed container to put into the refrigerator. If you look closely you can see the furikake I put on top of the cabbage.
Tsukemono is a great little side dish and it's incredibly easy to make. I will certainly be making more hakusai no shiozuke in the future as well as other types of Japanese fermented vegetables.