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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Traditional, local choices abound for tsukemono

Advertiser Staff

Japanese pickles and dressed vegetable dishes generally are easy to make, and homemade versions have a freshness and sweet honesty that commercials versions can lack.

Here's a recipe for tsukemono as it's made in Japan, based on ideas from chef Hiroshi Fukui.

Classic Tsukemono

1 head Chinese or regular cabbage
2 tablespoons Hawaiian or kosher salt or table salt
Konbu (kelp) strips, rehydrated in hot water, drained (optional)
1-2 small, hot red chili pepper, peeled, seeded, finely chopped (optional)

Trim away any damaged leaves and separate into whole leaves. Toss in nonreactive bowl or crock with salt. Place strips of konbu between every few leaves and scatter chili throughout. Place plate on top, weigh down and marinate 2 to 3 days. Leave on countertop the first day; refrigerate thereafter (unless your house is air-conditioned or you live at a cool, high elevation). The tsukemono can be eaten the first day, but the flavors mature and develop after 2-3 days. The tsukemono is done when the cabbage is pale, rather hard and squeaks when you rub it. Rinse and squeeze dry. Chop fine and serve a small portion as a side dish.

• • •

This tsukemono recipe, from Waimalu resident Gertrude Kusunoki, is typical of Hawai'i-style preparations. It's slightly spicy and nicely salty and sour.

Hawai'i-style Tsukemono

1 head cabbage, quartered
4 cups water
1/3 cup vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Hawaiian salt
1 small, hot, red chili pepper, peeled and seeded

Boil together everything except cabbage. Place cabbage in nonreactive bowl or crock. Pour hot sauce over cabbage. Marinate on counter half a day, then place in refrigerator, covered 2-3 days. Turn daily. Drain well and squeeze dry, then chop fine. Serve with a splash of shoyu or toss with mashed sesame seeds, if desired.

You can use this technique with cucumbers or other vegetables.

In frugal Japanese households, tsukemono is never wasted. If it goes sour, Kusunoki said, rinse it well, chop it and fry it together with Spam or other meats and serve hot over rice or noodles.

• • •

This recipe produces a light brown, crunchy, slightly sweet pickle. It is from Aiko Hirota.

Kogen-style Tsukemono

4-6 daikon, washed and peeled
1/4 cup Hawaiian salt
4 cups hot water
For the sauce:
2 cups raw or brown sugar
1/2 cup shoyu
1/4 cup vinegar
1 slice peeled ginger, cut into strips
1 chili pepper, peeled, seeded and chopped

Cut daikon into 1/4-inch slices. Mix salt with hot water. Place daikon in salt water mixture for

four hours or longer. Heat the sauce ingredients together until sugar is dissolved. Cool. Drain daikon well. Pack into jars. Pour cooled sauce over daikon and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving.

• • •

The young shoots of daikon with the green leaves and pale white stems make a beautiful pickle mixed with head cabbage; this is from Gertrude Kusunoki.


2 bunches young daikon leaf
1/4 cup Hawaiian salt
1 head cabbage
1/3 cup shoyu
1/4 cup white or rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons goma (sesame seed), lightly toasted
1 small, hot, red chili pepper, peeled and finely chopped

Remove roots from daikon plants, wash carefully to remove dirt from inside leaves. Separate roots in half. Quarter head cabbage. Sprinkle daikon and cabbage with Hawaiian salt in nonreactive bowl or crock. Let sit for half hour. Drain and squeeze dry. Boil together shoyu, vinegar and sugar. Pour over vegetables and mix well; leave at room temperature for 3-4 hours, then refrigerate 2-3 days. Drain, slice fine and toss with goma and chili.

• • •

This recipe is from Betsy Zakahi of Waimalu.

Mustard Eggplant Pickle

3-4 Japanese eggplant
1 teaspoon Hawaiian salt
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1/2 cup shoyu
5 tablespoons sugar

Slice eggplant 1/4-inch thick and toss with salt in nonreactive bowl or crock. Place plate on top, weight down and let sit until liquid is released. (A few minutes or up to an hour or so.) Drain (rinse, if desired). Blend mustard, shoyu and sugar and pour over pickles. Place in bottle or other container and marinate 2-3 days.

• • •

This is Sandy Kodama's homemade takuwan, a popular white radish pickle. She likes to cut it into sticks, but you can make rounds or other shapes.

Homemade takuwan

2-3 large daikon, peeled
Hawaiian salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon yellow food coloring

Cut daikon into sticks. Boil together sugar, vinegar, water, salt and food coloring. Pour over daikon in jars or bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Can be served after one day. Optional addition: 1 tablespoon peeled, chopped fresh ginger or 1 small, hot, red chili, peeled and seeded.