Fermented foods are having a moment. In amongst gut friendly kefir, sky, sourdough, kimchi and sauerkraut, there are the all important "Tsukemono."
Japanese pickles, known collectively as tsukemono, are those characteristic extras you get as part of a washoku (traditional Japanese) meal.
These are the tangy funky mouthfuls that cleanse the palate and provide piquancy to counter the heaviness of umami-rich foods.
The pickling process starts with dashi or a broth of kombu seaweed and bonito tuna flakes. Rice vinegar and sugar are then added with mandoline thin slices of vegetables and the leaves of purple shiso are sometimes used as a natural die.
Here are five tsukemono you might have tried:
1. Gari - Japanese Pickled Ginger
Japanese pickled ginger is probably one of the most easily recognised tsukemono, made from thinly sliced ginger pickled in a marinade of sugar, salt and rice vinegar. It's clean and peppery flavour make it perfect served as a palate cleanser alongside sushi or sahimi.
Get the recipe for pickled ginger here.
2. Takuan - Pickled Daikon Radish
Bright yellow and crunchy, pickled daikon is mildly tart and citrusy, with a slight funk. It's usually served with plain rice in bento boxes or in maki rolls.
Shibazuke is a traditional lacto ferment of eggplant, shiso and ginger, with a purple magenta hue imparted from red shiso. It's crunchy, crisp, and acidic, with a strong herbal note from shiso, and is an effective palate cleanser between individual mouthfuls.
These long and firm Japanese pickeled cucumbers are produced by brining them in a mix of soy sauce, salt, and sugar for one to two weeks until they have shrunk considerably and have a firm crunch. They are savoury and salty, with a deep soy sauce flavour.
These Japanese pickled plums are said to have set Samurai up for battle, but these days they are probably just as likely to be eaten as a sound cure for a hangover or found in your bento box come lunchtime. They have a distinctive, mouth-puckering saltiness and acidity, and a fleshy texture, and while they might take over a year to make, they're well worth the wait.