I just started a batch of Kosher-style brine-cured dill pickles. When the weather warms up enough that I can find pickling cucumbers for as little as 99 cents a pound, I like to do that.
But what about pickles from other vegetables? I’ve personally done home-grown green cherry tomatoes (great vegetables for martinis!) and my brewing partner Les Jones recently served me some pickles he made from summer squashes (zucchini, yellow crookneck, etc.) which were surprisingly good. I had tended to believe that those squashes were too soft to make good pickles, but there is something about the brining process that both tenderizes and tightens up the texture of the vegetables, while adding flavor and seasoning. They were excellent!
Which brings me to the next big vegetable pickle category, known widely in Asia but not so much here: pickles made from Daikon radishes. I have always been fond of the crisp, crunchy texture and zippy spiciness of radishes. And there are very well-established pickling traditions in many Asian countries using the Daikon radish varieties. Radishes are not so unusual an accompaniment to beer; a famous variety grown in Bavaria is known as the “beer friend” because it goes so well with good beer.
But Daikons are like radishes to the next quantum level, at least in size. I recently grew one that was 2 feet long and just under 3 inches in diameter! You know it is a decent-sized Daikon if it resembles an elephant’s tusk. That’s a lot of radish to play with, so it is natural to look to pickling as a way to preserve it for later enjoyment.
As you might imagine, there are recipes for Daikon pickles that run from the very simple, overnight-style pickles to the incredibly elaborate process taking a few months. For those of you picklers, I have selected three recipes for some classic Daikon pickles which follow. Try ‘em, and enjoy!
Pickled Daikon Radish
First up is a recipe which comes from the book The Balanced Plate, by Renee Loux. These are a quick overnight pickle that sets up beautifully – easy, and good!
1 lb. daikon radish, scrubbed or peeled
¼ cup sea salt
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
(Note: I used ¾ cup rice vinegar since I didn’t have any brown rice vinegar on hand)
¼ cup sake or mirin
(Note: I used Amontillado Sherry since I didn’t have any sake or mirin on hand)
1 cup filtered water
¼ cup sugar or ½ cup agave nectar
¼ teaspoon turmeric (optional, gives a traditional yellow color)
Cut the radishes in half lengthwise, and slice into ¼ inch thick slices. Toss the slices with the salt and place in a colander or strainer over a bowl, rest 1 hour. Then rinse well to remove salt.
Mix together the rice vinegar, brown rice vinegar, sake or mirin, water, agave nectar or sugar, and turmeric, and stir to dissolve the sugar and/or incorporate well.
Place the radish slices in a clean glass jar and pour the vinegar-sugar mixture over them. Cover the jar and let it stand at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours, then place in refrigerator. Will keep for at least a month.
Takuan Pickled Daikon Radish
Now for a more traditional approach, from the Japanese perspective, though less so than one recipe I encountered which involved a couple of weeks of aging the daikons in the sun and wind, followed by a couple of months of curing in a crock!
1 cup kosher salt (Note: I recommend weighing out 10 ounces, since kosher salt varies in density quite a bit from brand to brand)
1 gallon water, plus 1 cup water
1 large daikon radish
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups sugar
Dissolve the salt in 1 gallon of water to create the brine. Peel and slice the daikon. Place the daikon slices in a food-grade container of sufficient size and cover with the brine. Ensure that the daikon slices are completed covered by the brine (use a plate, and/or a stout plastic bag filled with water, to weigh the slices down below the surface of the brine). Soak the daikon slices for 4 or 5 days in the brine.
When ready to pack, combine 1 cup water, vinegar, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and cool. Place the drained daikon slices in glass jars and cover with the vinegar-sugar liquid. Cover the jars and refrigerate for at least 3 days before serving. The pickles will keep about 2 months under refrigeration.
Do Chua – Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickles
When I encountered this recipe, I immediately liked the idea of combining daikon and carrot, for a sweet and spicy experience. This makes a coarsely-textured salad that is used in making Banh Mi, the Vietnamese street sandwiches served on baguettes (remember that there is still French influence there from the 1950s), but it should go well with all manner of meat dishes that might otherwise be served with coleslaw or sauerkraut. And which also should go well with good beer! Makes about 5 pints.
2 lbs. carrots (about 5 medium), peeled
2 lbs. daikon (about 2 large), peeled
1 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 ½ cups white vinegar
2 cups water
Cut the carrots and daikon into large matchstick-sized pieces, about 2 ½ inches long by ¼ inch thick. Place the matchsticks in a large bowl, and sprinkle with 4 teaspoons sugar and 2 teaspoons salt. Use your clean hands to toss the matchsticks with the added sugar and salt for about 3 minutes until they soften. Transfer the matchsticks to a colander or strainer, rinse well with cool water, and drain.
Combine 1 cup sugar, the vinegar, and the water in a bowl or large measuring cup and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pack the matchsticks into clean glass jars and pour the sugar-vinegar-water mixture over them to cover. Seal the jars and refrigerate at least overnight before serving, to allow the flavors to develop. They should last 4 to 6 weeks under refrigeration.