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 while ago, I finally replicated his recipe, but I always have to add something. Jan has complained that this cabbage is too salty. After letting the cabbage sweat in the salt for a bit, I rinsed off as much of the salty liquid as I could. I then added shredded gari, sweet pickled ginger, and a dried chili. I put the cabbage in a pickle press for a few days and came up with a cabbage pickle more to her liking.
Karl’s Salt Pickled Cabbage with Pickled Ginger and Japanese Chili, Kyabetsu Shio-zuke Tsukemono
½ head of green cabbage
2 Tbs. Kosher salt
2 Tbs. gari, pickled ginger, shredded
1 Japanese dried red chili
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 two hours to coat all surfaces of the cabbage with the salty brine.
Tip: This salting starts the process of drawing the liquid out of the leaves and makes them a bit softer and easier to press down.
5. Rinse the cabbage and squeeze as much liquid out of the cabbage as you can.
Tip: Take fistfuls of the cabbage and squeeze as tightly as you can.
6. Mix the shredded ginger into the cabbage and add the chili.
Note: Most tsukemono are sweet, not spicy, but I like to give mine a little kick. If you want even more spice, use kitchen shears to snip the dried chili into very small rings and mix them into the cabbage. Depending on how spicy you want to make the pickles, you may discard all or some of the chili seeds or not.
7. Transfer the cabbage mixture to the pickle press and add a little water.
Tip: You want the cabbage to be completely submerged when it is press down.
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: I have found that 2-3 days is the perfect length of time. Before that and the cabbage is not quite pickled enough. However, by day five it starts to grow a little limp, instead of crunchy
9. Drain, but do not rinse, the cabbage before serving.