Pass the pickles


Cooking with Japanese Pickles: 97 Quick, Classic and Seasonal Recipes

By Takako Yokoyama (North Clarendon, Vt.: Tuttle Publishing, 2022, 112 pp., $17.99, hard cover)

Japanese pickles go far beyond the common yellow takuan, classic umeboshi you know about. Takayo Yokoyama is a pickling master who, through “Cooking with Japanese Pickles,” shares 97 recipes that range from the classic to the more regional or lesser known. A native of Shinshu, also known as the Nagano prefecture of Japan, Yokoyama grew up eating her mother’s homemade pickled vegetables and now continues the tradition through her cookbook. She herself makes 100 kilograms (about 220 pounds) of umeboshi every year, on top of all the other pickles she makes seasonally. While the average person may not have the need (or space!) to make 100 kilos of umeboshi, it is a testament to her pickling experience, and recipes being tried, tested and true.

If you’re just getting started, or not quite ready for the longer-term commitment of the fermentation process, try any of Yokoyama’s quick pickles. The time these recipes take range from an hour to eight hours, and don’t require the wait or possible complications that can come with a longer fermenting process. So long as you have the ingredients on hand, these pickles can be ready to eat within the day, or even by the time you’re ready to serve your next meal. While cucumber and Napa cabbage pickles will feel more familiar as pickles, the recipes for miso-pickled mushrooms and miso-pickled bell peppers are a fresh take and worth trying.

But if you’re already familiar with making fermented foods, definitely try any of her Rice Bran pickling recipes or even go for umeboshi, which also requires the extra step of drying the plums outside for several hot days. It’s definitely an intensive process, but one where the rewards of your creations could last a long time. Making umeboshi also comes with the added bonus of the by-product of ume-vinegar, which Yokoyama says adds “a sparkle” to many dishes.

The recipes featured not only focus on pickles, but food pairings and dishes that go well with specific pickles. Many people will be more familiar with classic pairings, such as umeboshi rice and umeboshi with fish, but other recipes give pickles a new take, such as potato salad with rakkyo (pickled Chinese onions).

While modern agriculture and greenhouse farming allows us the luxury of accessing most vegetables throughout the year, Yokoyama reminds readers what pickling was originally used for: preserving vegetables during the long winter months when vegetables could not grow. Keeping this in mind, she urges readers to make pickles using the freshest, best quality seasonal ingredients you can source. Not only will it make a difference in taste, it will also increase the nutritional value of your pickles.

Pickles aren’t commonly considered a main dish, but through “Cooking with Japanese Pickles,” Yokoyama shows how a humble pickled vegetable can become a star of your meals in its own right.

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