Last month, I had the privilege to visit Japan for two week. In between, I spend some time with at my foster family home at Komatsu, a small town in Ishikawa. It was a joyous time. I love the simplicity of the life there, and the warmth of the people.
At Komatsu, we walked to school, cycle to the post office and wish each other okairi (welcome back) and itterasshaii (have a safe journey) everytime a family member returns or departs. Unfortunately, the life is hard to replicate in a complicated city where everyone has too much stress to deal with and too little time to spare. However, it is possible to mimic their diet.
My host father which I fondly call Otoosan has a farm nearby home. It’s a few minutes car ride away. He took me there and showed me heaps of plants – daikon (radish), kyuri (cucumbers), tomato etc. As the has such a huge amount of food, the family have to preserve them through pickling.
Naturally, every meal at home is accompanied with some homemade pickles. I didn’t ask for the recipe as it would distress my host mother too much (she speaks very little English) and I know if I had asked she would wrecked her head to translate it for me.
Lucky for me, I met a friend at a party who lived in Nepal for a considerable time and hence is familiar with traditional food made the traditional way. Much to my delight, I got to taste homemade sauerkraut and old cucumber fermented with mustard seeds.
Then, he gave me a fermented Japanese cucumber recipe and it turned out wonderful. This cucumber pickle is crunchy, and savoury with a tinge of sourness from natural fermentation.
Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes + 3 days
Makes: 300 ml jar
Japanese cucumbers x 2 (about 300 g)
Garlic, minced x 3 cloves
Ginger, peeled and minced x 1 inch (about 20 g)
Soy sauce x 1/4 cup
Sesame oil x 1 tsp
Glass jar (350 g)
Small glass jar (15 ml) – optional
Chopping board + knife
TO MAKE PICKLE:
- Wash cucumbers and cut the ends off. Slice them into 2 inches long pieces, and then into (fat) matchsticks of four.
- Peel and mince ginger and garlic. Add into jar.
- Place cucumber into jar. Push them in tightly.
- Pour in soy sauce and sesame oil. This is very important: the liquid must cover the content (eventually), and there should be about 1 inch of space between the liquid and jar. Give it a few hours, the cucumber should soften and the liquid would rise to cover it. If it doesn’t, read the below tips*
- Leave the jar at room temperature for 3 days. It will start to ferment, as evidence by the bubbling.
- Taste, keep in the fridge and enjoy some at every meal.
HOW ENSURE SUCCESSFUL FERMENTATION: Immerse content under the liquid
Fermentation is the manipulation of bacteria. We want to ensure that the good bacteria, not the bad one, thrive. I have tried making fermented food without much knowledge, and a few failures led me to research on the science behind it. What you need to remember is to not allow oxygen to reach your cucumbers. Things you can/should do to immerse cucumber in the liquid:
- Pack cucumbers tightly. Compact it. Use a clean and dry spoon to push it down if you have to. Squish it down at all cost!
- Packed minced ginger and garlic under the cucumbers. This will prevent them from floating into the surface, and get spoilt.
- Cut a larger and longer cucumber to put on the top. It works like a seal to stop the smaller cucumbers below from floating to the surface.
- If you can, find a smaller glass jar as a weight. I found mine from the ‘shots’ from La Juiceria.
- If it ferments properly, you should see bubbles in the jar.
Not only it’s delicious and a good accompaniment to our Asian meals, it’s also very good for your gut health. Who knows, it may even help you lose weight! (Read: How your gut bacteria may be making you fat). Talking about it, that could be one of the secrets of Japanese’s lovely figure. My host mother, a grandmother of five, at 66 still look svelte.