I decided to have salmon teriyaki for dinner and the meat and rice needs a vegetable. For Japanese cuisine this usually means some kind of tsukemono (漬物; pickled vegetables). The quickest and easiest method is salt preserving (塩漬け; shinozuke).
The Japanese tend prefer to keep their tsukemono fairly simple, with just salt or the addition of just one or two additional ingredients. The point here is to preserve the flavor of the original vegetable, not to make a carrier for spices. Properly, you should salt the vegetables for at least one day (ichiyazuke; ), but I not always plan that far ahead. The vegetables in this recipe would be considered sokusekizuke (instant pickles).
This is not really a problem, since you should not really be concerned about “preserving” the vegetables. At least in my home, it is rare for any tsukemono I make to see the dawn. If you are making a very large batch of preserved vegetables it would be become more of an issue.
Like blanching, salting greatly reduces the volume of watery vegetables, like napa cabbage. For a family of four, a small head of cabbage would be an appropriate size to start salting. Once the water has sweated out, the seemingly huge pile of raw cabbage will be shrunk down to just a couple of cups of limp vegetables.
Most Japanese households have a pickling container with a press (tsukemonoki; (漬物器). If you do not have this kind of pickling press, you may use a small round seal-able plastic container, a plate that is just slightly smaller and a weight of some kind (like a rock). Do not use a lead weight, or other un-coated metals, as the vinegar might react with it and spoil your vegetables.
The pickling press does two things. It puts the vegetables under a slight pressure to squeeze out the moisture. It also keep them submerged in the brine so that the salt will be in complete contact with the vegetables. If you do not have a suitable container and plate that will work, you may use your hands to mix and squeeze the vegetables a few times every 10 minutes for at least one hour.
I find that salt preserved cabbage, just by itself, is a bit visually boring. Today, I decided to add some heirloom carrots to the mix. Just a bit of yellow and orange carrots gave a nice colorful counter point to the white/light green cabbage. I also decided to add a quick pickling to my preserved vegetables with a sauce of vinegar, mirin, sugar, gari (ガリ; pickled ginger), and HonDashi.
Karl’s Japanese Pickled Cabbage and Carrots
1 head of napa cabbage (4 inches by 8 inches)
2 small heirloom carrots
1 Tbs. salt
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup mirin
2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. pickled ginger, shredded
¼ tsp. HonDashi
½ tsp. black sesame seeds
1. Rinse and chop the cabbage into half inch to one inch strips.
Tip: You can just chop the head of cabbage as it is or, if you have a large head, remove several leaves at a time and stack them for easy chopping.
2. Use a vegetables shredder to cut the carrots into about three inch match sticks.
3. Put the vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle them with the salt. Toss to distribute the salt over the vegetables.
Tip: The salt will draw the liquid out of the vegetables and turn it into a strong brine.
4. Put the vegetables in your pickling container and let them sit for at least one hour.
Note: For ichiyazuke, let the brined vegetables sit under pressure for 24 hours.
5. Put the vegetables in a bowl and rinse them well in cool water to remove most of the salt. Squeeze as much liquid out of the vegetables as you can.
Note: If you want Hakusai no Shiozuke (preserved napa cabbage) you would stop right here and serve the vegetables just as they are. I prefer my tsukemono with a bit of sweet and sour, as well as salty.
6. Put the vinegar, mirin, and sugar into a small pot and bring it just to a low boil to dissolve the sugar.
7. Remove the pot for the heat and stir in the ginger and HonDashi.
8. Put the salted vegetables in your pickling container and add the dressing. Use the press to submerge the vegetables completely and let them sit for at least one hour.
Tip: If you are going to marinate the vegetables overnight you may refrigerate the container, but you want the finished pickles to be at room temperature when served.
9. Transfer the pickles to a serving bowl and garnish with the black sesame seeds.