Kyuri-bunga! – Growing a Taste of Japan in Michigan (2 Recipes Within)

Garden aficionado and JCMU Fiscal Officer Kitty Douglass-Harris’s gardening adventures continue! Part 4 of this blog series has her updating us on how she turns her Japanese cucumbers into delicious pickle dishes – complete with recipes below!


Hello everyone!

Summer finally decided to arrive in Michigan sometime in mid-June, bringing with it the opposite effect from our unusually wet and cold spring. Much of June and July were hot and very, very dry – not an ideal condition for growing vegetables, which are water-intensive crops. I spent most of my early mornings in June watering my vegetable garden – and watching the clouds for any signs of rain.

The lack of water delayed my first harvest a little, but when we finally did get some measurable precipitation – BOOM! POOF! Vegetables galore! I guess when it rains, it really does pour…

Rowan
My little gardening helper!

Summer of Japanese cukes

My summer squash plants (also known as yellow zucchini or courgette) provided an abundance of food, as did one very hearty Japanese cucumber vine. These cukes, known as kyuri in Japanese, are longer and more slender than the ones we typically find in the grocery store. They have a thin outer skin with some spines (that come off when the cucumber is washed) and tiny seeds on the inside.h

Cucumbers are standard fare in Japan in the summer. I’ve read that it’s common to refer to cucumbers and Japanese eggplant within the same breath (“kyuri-nasu”) because they are so ubiquitous, and are often harvested together mid-summer. My eggplants aren’t ready just yet, but with a refrigerator full of cucumbers and more ripening on the vine in my garden, there was only one thing to do:

Make pickles!

Now, these are not the typical cucumber pickles that you might get as a side dish with a sandwich at your local deli. Japanese pickles have a delicate flavor provided by salt, rice wine vinegar, and sometimes rice bran (depending on the style and recipe). If you’ve ever eaten the pink ginger that accompanies sushi at a restaurant (called gari in Japanese), or the yellow daikon radish slices that sometimes come along with an order of ramen soup (known as takuan), then you are indulging in some common forms of Japanese pickle.

There are a number of different ways to prepare Japanese cucumber pickles, but the recipe below is a personal favorite and very common fare in my house. It is a southern-style pickle, so it is sweet rather than sour, and can be spiced up with a dash of Japanese 7-spice powder (nanami togarashi, typically used in udon and other soups) if you like your pickles with a bit of heat.


Pickles
Mmmm delicious pickle dinner

Kyuri no Tsukemono
(Japanese Cucumber Pickles)
Sweet variety

Ingredients:

  • One Japanese cucumber (or English hothouse cucumber), between 8-10 inches long, well-washed, cut in half and then sliced as thinly as you can manage.
    • If you have a mandolin slicer, that is ideal for the job. I cut mine with a very sharp knife into wafer-thin slices – being very careful not to cut my fingers in the process!
  • 2 tablespoons mirin (a clear, sweetened rice wine for cooking, available at many grocery stores and Asian markets)
  • 1 tablespoon Japanese soy sauce (shoyu)

Garnishes (all are optional, depending on your individual tastes):

  • Sesame seeds
  • 1-2 scallions (green onions), sliced very, very thin
  • A dash of Japanese 7-spice powder (nanami togarashi)

Process:

Mix together the mirin and soy sauce in a small bowl. After washing and slicing the cucumber, place in a bowl or shallow container so that the slices are spread fairly evenly. Pour the mirin/soy sauce over the cucumber, and toss to coat the slices. Cover the bowl with a plate or some plastic film, and put into the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Once thoroughly chilled, garnish as desired, and eat!

You can also make the recipe above with a citrus note by substituting the standard soy sauce with ponzu, which is soy sauce with yuzu (Japanese citrus) juice in it. Garnish these pickles with thinly sliced kumquats for a summery treat that matches well with simple broiled fish or chicken and Japanese short-grain rice.

For those desiring a more savory pickle, try this recipe for Kanto-style kyuri no shiomomi (Tokyo area salted cucumber pickles), which I have adapted from Shunsuke Fukushima’s excellent cookbook, Japanese Home Cooking.

cucumber-salad-276803_960_720

Kyuri no Tsukemono
(Japanese Cucumber Pickles)
Salted variety

Ingredients:

  • Just as in the first recipe, take one Japanese cucumber or English hothouse cucumber and slice as thinly as you can.
  • ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced very, very thin
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt or other coarse-grain salt. Please do not use table salt with iodine in it – it will give the pickles a really funky flavor!
  • 1-2 cups ice water
  • 1-2 scallions (green onions), sliced very, very thin
  • Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Process:

After washing and slicing the cucumber and ginger, place all slices in a large bowl. Sprinkle salt over the cucumber, and gently massage the salt into the vegetables with your fingers. Place a small plate inside the bowl, and put a can or other heavy item onto the plate to apply pressure to the cucumber slices inside. Refrigerate the cucumbers for 30 minutes.

After they are chilled and the extra water pressed out, place the cucumbers into a colander and rinse carefully with the ice water. Put the newly formed salted pickles into small serving bowls, and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds (if so desired).

Squash3


These recipes are both for fresh pickles – not preserved, so they should be eaten right away. That’s usually not a problem in my household… it’s more of a challenge not to eat all of the cucumbers while I’m making them!

Enjoy!

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