Japanese Dinner Part One: Purple Pickles

by Chris

For a while I have wanted to pickle something. Recently the chance came by UPS and with a Japanese cookbook, Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. According to Tsuji, pickling is popular in Japan but fading with the years, as we no longer need salt, brine, or vinegar to keep our food fresh. He writes a section on pickling. Having read and tasted it, I better understand the limp ginger served alongside my sushi, as well as the pickled plum that often forms the center to a ricey circumference.

Pickling is common across cultures. Japan pickles plums, turnips, and daikon; Korea salt-pickles cabbage and chiles for kimchi. Chiles, eggplant, and garlic become a pickled dish in Sicily, and in Mexico jalapeños and jicama bob in baths of vinegar. In the US, we pickle mostly cucumbers and tomatoes, but also salmon and eggs. The Japanese recipe I tried featured cabbage, which I swapped for purple cabbage, a change that met three of my needs: pickling, pretty pictures, and alliteration.

Preparation for the pickling was painless. I chopped a half-moon of cabbage, dried the pieces, and packed them into a mason jar. Then I heated vinegar with sugar and salt, and, when the pickling solution started to boil, I poured it to the jar’s glassy lip. The cabbage will pickle in a cool, dark place (right next to the limoncello). In two day’s time, the pickles and the rest of a Japanese dinner will be ready.