Cultures around the world favor pickled foods because they make bland, starchy meals more interesting and enjoyable. The following pickle recipes come from several Asian cultures. The recipes go from West to East. Use these recipes as a guide and feel free to make substitutions based on whatever vegetables are in season or ingredients that you have on hand.
Always start with fresh produce and quality ingredients when making pickles. As a rule, you should not save and reuse pickling liquids to make another batch. However, leftover pickling liquids may be reused in sauces, soups, and stir-fries. Or simply stir into yogurt for a creamy salad dressing.
If you want to use whey, it’s very easy to make. In a sieve set over a bowl, drain 2 cups of plain regular yogurt for at least 30 minutes, or until you have 1⁄2 cup drained liquid. The clear liquid that drains into the bowl is whey. Don’t start with Greek-style yogurt, it has already been drained to make it thick, so it has much less whey.
Persian Eggplant Relish (Nazkhatun)
This succulent relish uses tart pomegranate juice to balance the sweetness of the eggplant. Feel free to substitute another tart juice such as rhubarb or cranberry. When eggplant isn’t in season, I find that zucchini often makes a great substitute in recipes calling for eggplant. And early in the year, I would use canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, rather than fresh.
Makes about 1 quart
1 (1 lb.) medium eggplant or zucchini
2 TB. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1⁄3 cup pomegranate juice or whey
1 tsp. dried marjoram, or 1 TB. chopped fresh basil
1⁄2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prick eggplant in several places with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until tender. Cool eggplant for 30 minutes, or until comfortable to handle, and then cut off stem, cut in half, and scoop out flesh. Chop eggplant finely.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and onions and sauté 5 to 8 minutes, or until onions begin to brown lightly. Add eggplant, tomatoes, pomegranate juice, marjoram, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer slowly for 30 to 40 minutes, or until thick. Turn off heat and cool to room temperature.
- Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Transfer pickles to a sterilized 1-quart canning jar. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Use within 1 month. Serve cold or at room temperature as an appetizer drizzled with olive oil and yogurt.
Indian-Style Pickled Vegetables (Achar)
Achar refers to pickled and salted vegetables that may be sweet, sour, salty, or hot. The nutty overtones of this spicy, crunchy vegetable will keep you coming back for more. The strong flavor of hazelnuts can substitute nicely for the peanuts.
Makes about 1 quart
1⁄3 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 TB. roasted, salted peanuts
1⁄2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp. grated fresh peeled ginger
3⁄4 cup vinegar
1⁄4 cup jaggery or lightly packed brown sugar or 2 TB. honey
13⁄4 tsp. pickling salt
3⁄4 tsp. ground turmeric
4 to 5 cups vegetables from the following list:
- Carrots cut in 1-in. diagonal slices (1 lb. carrots makes 2 to 3 cups sliced)
- Cauliflower cut in 1-in. florets (1 medium head makes about 6 cups florets)
- Salad cucumber cut in 1-in. diagonal half slices (1 medium makes 1 to 11⁄2 cups seeded, halved, and sliced)
- Radish halves (1 lb. globe radishes make 2 to 3 cups halved)
- Green or red ripe tomato quarters (1 medium makes about 1 cup quartered)
- Using a mortar and pestle, or in the bowl of a food processor, grind together onion, peanuts, crushed red pepper, garlic, and fresh ginger to make a paste.
- In a large stockpot, stir together paste, vinegar, jaggery, pickling salt, and turmeric. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Add vegetables, and return to a boil over high heat. Simmer 5 minutes, or until vegetables are heated through. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Achar may be served within 1 to 2 hours, but is best after at least 3 days. Use within 1 month.
Vietnamese Pickled Daikon and Carrots
In the north, Vietnamese pickles are typically sour and salty. In the south, they prefer them hot and sweet. Adapt this recipe to your taste. For heat, add one or more dried red chiles to the jar before you fill it with vegetables. Use these pickles on banh mi sandwiches or serve with rice or noodle dishes.
Makes about 1 quart
2 cups distilled or filtered water, at room temperature
1⁄2 cup whey or 1/4 cup vinegar
1-1/2 TB. palm sugar or light brown sugar or honey, or to taste
1 TB. kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1 lb. organic daikon, peeled and cut into sticks
1 lb. organic carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
In a small bowl, stir together distilled water, whey, sugar, and kosher salt.
- Sterilize a 1-quart canning jar. Pack daikon and carrots into the jar, leaving at least 1 inch headspace.
- If necessary, stir liquid until sugar and salt is completely dissolved. Pour over vegetables to cover completely. If there is not enough liquid, prepare more using the ratio of 1⁄2 cup distilled water, 2 tablespoons whey, 1-1/2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, and 3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt.
- Weight vegetables to keep them submerged in liquid (use a small yogurt lid and a small jar or glass). Cover and let stand at warm room temperature (68°F to 72°F) for at least 3 days, or up to 3 weeks. Vegetables are ready when they have a pleasant salty and sour flavor. If liquid stops bubbling, fermentation is complete, and they should be immediately moved to the refrigerator. Refrigerate up to 1 month.
Quick Japanese Pickles (Tsukemono)
These slightly sweet, very mild pickles provide a crisp, refreshing complement to any meal. It’s one of my favorite quick pickle recipes.
Makes about 1 quart
3 Japanese cucumbers, sliced 1⁄4 in.
1 small white or red onion, sliced paper thin
1⁄3 cup rice or cider vinegar
2 TB. water
1 TB. soy sauce
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1⁄2 tsp. granulated sugar
- Layer Japanese cucumber and onion in a sterilized 1-quart canning jar.
- In a small bowl, stir vinegar, water, soy sauce, salt, and sugar until sugar dissolves.
- Pour dressing over vegetables. Cover jar and shake until vegetables are thoroughly coated with dressing. Refrigerate 1 to 3 hours before serving. Pickles are best when eaten within a few hours. Use within 3 days.
Miso-Pickled Vegetables (Misozuke)
Misozuke is the oldest known variety of Japanese pickles. Naturally fermented soybean paste (miso) is ideal for making easy, crunchy vegetable pickles. Try white miso for mild, sweet flavor, or red miso (akamiso) for more assertive pickles.
Makes 1 to 2 cups
1 lb. total of any of the following vegetables:
- Daikon, peeled, sliced 1⁄4 in., and then halved (half-moons)
- Japanese eggplant, trimmed, and sliced 1⁄4 in.
- Japanese cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced 1⁄4 in.
- Carrot, peeled, cut in spears, and blanched for 1 minute
- Asparagus, cut in 2-in. lengths, and blanched for 1 minute (use shorter marinating time for asparagus)
1 cup white miso (shiromiso) or red miso (akamiso)
1⁄4 cup mirin (sweet rice wine) or any white wine
1 TB. granulated sugar
1 tsp. soy sauce
- Place vegetables in a shallow dish.
- In a small bowl, stir together white miso, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce. Pour over vegetables, making sure to cover vegetables completely. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 month.
- Rinse pickles under running water before serving.
Cucumbers in Mustard Soy Sauce (Shoyuzuke)
A zesty east-meets-west pickle, accented with toasted sesame.
Makes about 1 pint
3 small Japanese, Persian, or English cucumbers
3 tsp. salt
3⁄4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp. granulated sugar or honey
1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
1⁄4 cup toasted sesame seeds
- Cut Japanese cucumbers in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut diagonally into 1⁄2-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Place cucumbers in a sieve and rinse under running water. Drain and pat dry.
- In a small bowl, combine remaining 2 teaspoons salt, soy sauce, sugar, and Dijon-style mustard.
- In a medium bowl, toss cucumber and dressing until well blended.
- Refrigerate 1 hour before serving. Garnish with sesame seeds before serving. Best when eaten within a few hours; use within 3 days.