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Asazuke: The Quick Ferment for Tasty Pickles Any Time

This article first appeared in July, 2014 over at Ecotwaza, a beloved little company here in Japan doing good work to share the joys of Japanese culture, that is well worth a look.  - JB

Asazuke literally translates as ‘morning pickle’ and is one of Japan’s easiest ways to make a pretty little side dish out of almost any vegetable at hand. They are a nice alternative for enjoying summer bounty that doesn’t require a hot stove or oven, just a few spices, some salt, and time. They can also make a quick and pretty little dish to pass at summer picnics or family potlucks. A little slicing and dicing, massaging, and waiting and ta-dah! Pickles on the table.

Using this basic recipe and ratios, ingredients  can be switched up easily throughout the year. Thinly sliced rhubarb or cucumber with onion (red is by far the prettiest!) in summer, while paper thin slices of carrot, daikon or other radishes work extremely well in winter. Leaf vegetables work like a charm, too, as the quick-pickle process keeps them pleasantly crunchy with enough salt to accentuate flavor.

2 medium sized cucumbers
1 half red onion
2 fresh basil leaves
1 Tablespoons pickling or kitchen salt
1 Teaspoon cumin, togarashi (red pepper), and/or konbu*

Small plate that fits inside the bowl
Bottle of water or slightly heavy object

Wash and thinly slice the cucumber. Peel and thinly slice the red onion into relatively large, half-moons. You want to be able to easily pick them up with chopsticks or nab them with a fork. Wash an snip the basil into thin strips. Place the vegetables in a glass or other non-reactive bowl. Add the salt and spices, then thoroughly massage and mix with your hands for about three minutes. Set the plate on top of the salted mixture with the weight on top of it. Place in the refrigerator and serve chilled. Can be made two or three hours before serving with great effect.

The salt naturally draws fluid out of the vegetables, creating a yummy vegetable brine. Unlike longer-term ferments, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, these quick pickles don’t produce the same amount of fluid, but the idea is the same. The brine keeps unwanted bacteria from forming and maintains flavor. Eating such simple fermented foods helps the body absorb important vitamins and minerals while simultaneously supporting the community of stomach and intestine bacteria that help with digestion. Pickle away! 

Some recommended reading

Tsukemono by Kay Shimizu, Kodansha Publishing, 1993


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