Quick Pickles

Quick pickles
The pressure is on!

My first experience with Japanese pickles, tsukemono, was at a family restaurant in Kyoto, definitely nothing fancy. I don’t even remember what the pickles were except that they were kind of slimy, strong tasting, and definitely gross. Even though I try to be open minded and adventurous with new foods, I kept a wary distance of tsukemono after that.

Pickle press
Pickle press

Many years later, a friend recommended a Japanese cookbook to me, Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh. She had met the author and also knew that my favorite kind of Japanese food is more “home cooking” style, not sushi or tempura.  It’s ended up being my favorite Japanese cookbook and makes just the kind of food I love in the from-scratch style I like to cook in.

Washoku is a little bit intimidating. There is a lot of information about ingredients, cooking techniques, and tools. All of this makes it an excellent resource, but it’s a little daunting. Eventually I just had to pick one or two recipes and dive in.

Improvised pickle press.
Improvised pickle press. This is not a classy option.

Somehow I decided that I wanted to try making the “Impatient Pickles” from her book. Maybe I had a spare cucumber. Maybe I just wanted to eat more vegetables. Either way, I decided to take on my nemesis: the pickle.

One note as well about Japanese quick pickles. They are best made with a pickle press (tsukemonoki). You can get plastic ones with a lid that screws down, but mine is a little glass jar (the picture at top of this post). The idea behind them is basically to keep the vegetable material pressed down and submerged under the brine.

Quick pickles ingredients
The brine, konbu, and cucumbers post-salting

The weight of the lid should also be heavy enough to encourage the liquid in the vegetables to continue to get pressed out as well. I did all sorts of wacky things to do this initially (see picture). If you enjoy this recipe, seriously just get a pickle press. I got mine on eBay.  Amazon.co.jp also ships internationally.

And a last note…ingredients! The only unusual ingredient is the konbu (a type of seaweed) if you enjoy Japanese cooking, I’d suggest tracking some down since it’s also used in making dashi broth, which is used in everything. It can likely be found in any Asian grocery, but Amazon has it too. It’s sold dried and keeps forever. The original recipe also calls for pickling cabbage with the cucumber (I haven’t tried that yet) and myoga bulbs (that I haven’t been able to find).


Adapted from the recipe by Elizabeth Andoh from Washoku
Serves 4

  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 small Japanese or other cucumber with edible peel, about 3 oz
  • 1 piece konbu, about 1 square inch
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce (optional)
Quick pickles
Cucumbers, after ten minutes with the salt

Wash the cucumber and slice into thin rounds. If using a large cucumber, slice rounds in half. If you hate circles, cut into strips.

Place cucumber in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Toss and let sit for 10 minutes or until the cucumbers are visibly moist. Then lightly squeeze the cucumbers, gradually exerting more pressure until you’ve squeezed a good amount of liquid from them back into the bowl. Keep this liquid brine.

Quick pickles
Adding the konbu

Put the cucumber in the pickle jar and place the konbu on top. Then pour the brine over everything. Finally, place the lid onto the contents, pressing down so everything is submerged.

If you have a screw-top pickle press, marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the fridge. If you have a glass jar (or a crazy made up contraption) adjust that to 3 hours room temperature or 36 hours in the fridge.

Just before serving, rinse vegetables under cold water and drain. Squeeze out any remaining liquid. Drizzle soy sauce on top if you like.

Next week, I’ll talk about my two other favorite pickle recipes!

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