Japan has many Tsukemono, literally “pickled things.” When my father came back from Japan in the fifties, he introduced my family to Japanese cuisine. One dish that he learned to make was salt pickled cabbage (kyabetsu shio-zuke; キャベツ塩-漬け ).
He made this dish with Western green cabbage, not the usual Asian Napa cabbage. I knew that he had the recipe just right, because it tasted just like the tsukemono served in the Japanese restaurants in the LA area. It was salty and squeaky-crunchy and one of the delights of my childhood. We all could not wait for him to make another batch.
A few weeks ago I finally replicated his recipe. Not one to leave well enough alone I had to add something. Japanese red chilies, just to give them a little kick.
Karl’s Salt Pickled Cabbage with Japanese Chilies, Kyabetsu Shio-zuke Tsukemono
½ head of green cabbage
2-3 Tbs. Kosher salt
1 6 inch piece of kombu
2 Japanese dried red chilies
1. Cut the cabbage into one inch squares and break the leaves apart.
2. Put them in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over the vegetables.
3. Use a spatula to mix and distribute the salt over the leaves.
4. Toss the vegetables several times over the next hour to coat all surfaces of the cabbage.
Tip: This hour starts the process of drawing the liquid out of the leaves and makes them a bit softer and easier to press down.
5. Wipe the kombu with a damp towel and put it in the bottom of a pickle press.
6. Tear the dried chilies into several pieces and mix them into the cabbage.
Tip: Depending on how spicy you want to make the pickles, you may discard the chili seeds or not.
7. Transfer the cabbage, and any liquid, to the pickle press and add a tablespoon or two of water.
Tip: You want the cabbage to be completely submerged whey it is press down, but you do not want to dilute the brine too much.
Note: If your pickle press has a crank, turn it as down as tightly as you can and tighten it again after an hour.
8. Let the cabbage pickle for one to three days, the longer the better.
Tip: After three days the cabbage will get a bit over pickled and limp. It will still be edible, but not at its best. Do not make more than you can consume in that time.