The Diakon Pickles saga: part 1

Happy Monday everyone!

In case you've missed out on any of my previous posts, I used to live in Japan. While I was there I fell in love with Japanese cuisine. From the humblest bowl of Ramen, to the most sophisticated Kaiseki dinner, there is nothing simple of ordinary about any Japanese dish. Every meal I ate was prepared with some amount of love and craftsmanship- AND ALWAYS CAME WITH A SIDE OF TSUKEMONO.

I was particularly fascinated with Japanese Pickles, called Tsukemono, and one variety especially, called NUKA-ZUKE (pronounced new-ka-zoo-kay). The Japanese are masters of preserving everything under the sun by drying, smoking, or pickling it. I met with a variety of pickles I didn't think possible. From pickled burdock root (called GOBO), to pickled diakon radishes-I love them all.

Wikipedia defines Tsukemono thusly:
The most common kinds of tsukemono are pickled in salt or brine. This means that according to EU and USA trade code definitions for duty tax purposes Japanese 'pickles' are in fact 'preserved vegetables' and not 'pickles' as they are not primarily preserved in acetic acid or distilled vinegar. Soy sauce, miso, vinegar, rice bran (nuka), and sake lees (sake kasu) are also useful for pickling.
Takuan (daikon), umeboshi (ume plum), turnip, cucumber, and Chinese cabbage are among the favorites to be eaten with rice as an accompaniment to a meal. Beni shoga (red ginger) is used as a garnish on okonomiyaki, takoyaki and yakisoba. Gari (ginger) is used between dishes of sushi to cleanse the palate. Rakkyōzuke (a type of onion) is often served with Japanese curry.
Traditionally, the Japanese prepared tsukemono themselves. Pickling was one of the fundamental ways to preserve food. Nowadays, tsukemono can be readily bought in a supermarket, but despite this many Japanese still make their own. Typically, all that's needed to make pickles is a container, salt, and something to apply pressure on top of the pickles. They are served with rice as okazu (side dish) with drinks as an otsumami (snack), as an accompaniment to or garnish for meals, and as a course in the kaiseki portion of a Japanese tea ceremony.
Nukazuke (糠漬け?) are a type of Japanese pickle, made by fermenting vegetables in rice bran (nuka). Almost any edible vegetable may be pickled through this technique, though traditional varieties include eggplant, Japanese radish (daikon), cabbage, and cucumber. The taste of nuka pickles can vary from pleasantly tangy to very sour, salty and pungent. These pickles also retain their crispness which adds to their popularity.
Rice bran is first roasted, then mixed in a crock with salt, kombu seaweed, and water. Some recipes call for ginger, miso, beer or wine. The resultant mash, called nukamiso or nukadoko, has a consistency comparable to wet sand or cooked grits. Vegetables, apple peels, or persimmon peels are added to the nuka-bed every day for at least a few days until a fermenting culture has been established. At this point nuka-bed is ‘live,’ meaning that it contains a culture of active single-celled organisms, mostly lactobacilli and yeast. Although nukazuke can be made from scratch, a bit of well seasoned nuka from an older batch is often used to ‘seed’ a fresh batch.
Unless an established nuka sample is used to seed a fresh batch, the ubiquitous lactic acid-producing colonies crucial to the fermentation process must come from sources such as the skin of the starter vegetables or from human hands.

Why am I telling you all this? Because a very good friend of mine recently gave me a few organically grown Diakon, and I wanted to make Nuka-zuke pickles out of them. The first thing I had to do before I pickled them was hang them to dry for a few days. Normally Daikon would hang by their leaves outside, for a few weeks.

But since these were WAY WAY WAY smaller than their Japanese cousins, and some idiot had cut the leaves off before delivering them, I had to improvise. I tied the by the fat end (Daikon are more or less shaped like large carrots). and hung them over my towel rack in my kitchen. Since my home is particularly dry and warm, from the wood burning stove we use to heat our home in the evening, it only took about a week to dry them.

I then had to actually find a recipe for Nuka-zuke. I spent more than a few hours scamming the Internet and various Japanese cookbooks. To my dismay there are thousands of recipe for brine and soy pickles but very few for rice bran pickles. I finally found two recipes that I ended up combining and using-RECIPE TO FOLLOW!

SO...the last thing I had to do was to find some rice bran.

You'd think this would be easy to do in this age of global cuisine and healthy eating. But it was sort of a job. No one in Tehachapi carries Rice Bran, so I widened my search to Bakersfield and Lancaster/Palmdale. Still no luck. I finally found rice bran at the Whole Foods in Valencia-about a 1 3/4 hours drive from my house.

I didn't have time to mail-order the stuff from the Internet (as my daikon was ready much faster then I had anticipated. So I drove to Whole Foods and just made a day of it.

The pickles are not done yet, but here is the recipe I am using (I'll give an update in about ten days when they are done). Instead of waiting for the benevolent bacterias to take hold naturally, I used a mix of Sake and Miso to instanly jump-start the process, here is how I did it:

Julie's Nuka-Zuke Daikon
4-5 medium sized daikon washed and hung to dry for 1-4 weeks-depending on size
8 oz. Rice Bran
2 oz. pink or Kosher salt, plus more for later
1/2 cup white miso
1/2 cup sake or Japanese beer
1 cup water
1 - 6 inch piece of kombu (kelp) softened (reserving the soaking water)
1 carrot peeled (reserve the peels) and cut into 3 inch lengths
1 chili pepper roughly chopped

After the daikon are properly dried- I.E. you can bend them in half easily without breaking-make the nuka base.
my daikon were small, so they dried in about 10 days
Mix the next 5 ingredients together in a large bowl-you will need to increase your recipe if your diakon are bigger or you are using more than what is pictured above. The mixture should be just solid enough to hold a very loose ball if rolled (like wet "playdoh"). If the mix is too solid, thin it out with the reserved kombu soaking liquid. Break the  kombu into bits and fold into the nuka mix along with the carrot pieces, carrot peels, and the chili. Spread half the mix onto the bottom of a very clean (preferable sanitized) plastic or glass container (if you are lucky enough to have a Japanese pickling pot, please use it). Press the daikon into the mix in one single layer. If you have increased your recipe, you will need to layer your pickles-nuka, daikon, nuka, daikon, nuka, etc..
Then place the rest of the mixture over the top of the daikon. Press down firmly with your hands, and sprinkle with extra salt to prevent mold or less benevolent bacteria from taking a foot hold.
Spread a double layer of plastic wrap directly over the nuka mix, and press into the edges to prevent dust from getting in. Place a lid one size smaller the the opening of the container directly on the plastic wrap.

 Use bricks stones, or a plastic bag full of playground sand to weigh the lid down. I used stones that I had scrubbed with soap and hot water and then wrapped in plastic to keep everything sanitary.
I did all this on the 12th of November. Usually Nuka-Zuke takes from 3-5 weeks to be ready, but since these daikon are so tiny, I'm banking on about 10-12 days. I'll let you all know how they came out around the 23rd of November... Wish me luck, Y'all!!!!

 If you would like to read a bit further about someone else's Nuka experience please go to: http://www.bento.com/taste/tc-pick.html
On the Tokyo Food Page. I have been a  fan of this sight for many, many years!

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