Sweet, sour and salty 'instant' radish pickles

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[While I'm still getting back up to speed, please enjoy this recipe for 'instant' pickled radishes, great in any bento or in a salad. Originally published in May 2009. It's kind of funny to re-read this post and realize we were still waffling about buying a house in France or not. I guess we did, after all!]

While radishes are available year-round, spring seems to be the perfect time to enjoy their crisp, peppery crunchiness. They are also really pretty. I love them just as-is, perhaps with a little salt, or sliced up in salads, but I've also been playing around with various formulas to make instant pickles or ichiyazuke (一夜漬け, or 'overnight pickles') with them. One reason is that radishes are dirt cheap right now at the markets in the Provence where I've settled for the summer actually gone and bought a house (aka the moneypit): 2 euros for 3 huge bundles. I can never resist a produce bargain.

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Radishes are not traditional Japanese vegetables, but flavor wise they are close to daikon radish as well as to kabu (turnip). Taking my cue from traditional daikon pickles, I pickled the radishes in a sour-sweet-salty mixture of rice vinegar, ume vinegar and another product of spring, strawberry syrup.

Ume vinegar, or ume-su (梅酢), also sometimes called ume seasoning, is a byproduct of making umeboshi (pickled plums). Its sourness comes from the ume plums, the bright red color from the red shiso leaves that are pickled along with the ume, and the saltiness comes from the salt used in the pickling process. Ume vinegar is available at well-stocked Japanese grocery stores as well as some natural food stores. The bottle here came from Workshop Issé in Paris, and is delicious.

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Strawberry syrup is simply made by combining an equal amount of ripe strawberries and sugar, perhaps with a little lemon juice to enhance the sourness, crushing the strawberries and boiling it a bit. This recipe on Recipe Bazaar would work well. You could also use bottled strawberry syrup instead, which is what I did actually. You could use honey instead of the strawberry syrup, though the extra red really boosts the colors of the pickled radish.

Recipe: Sweet-Sour Instant radish pickles

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Time required: About 5-10 minutes to wash and prep the radishes and put them in the pickling mix. Several hours to let them 'mature' in the refrigerator.

For about 20 to 30 radishes, depending on how big they are:

  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 3/4 cup ume vinegar
  • 1/4 cup strawberry syrup or honey

Combine the liquids well. (If you need more, increase the amounts at the same proportions: 4 parts vinegar, 3 parts ume vinegar, and 1 part sweetener.)

Cut the green leaves off the radishes and reserve for another recipe. Trim each radish, taking off the long hairy root part and most or all of the green part. If the radishes are small, leave them whole, otherwise cut them into halves or quarters.

Put the radishes in a non-reactive container (not aluminum or iron) and cover with the pickling liquid. Cover well and let rest in the refrigerator. They will be ready to eat the next day, and will keep in the refrigerator for about a week before the radishes get a bit too limp, though they should still be safe to eat for another week. Please note that these are 'instant' style pickles (see more about Japanese instant pickles or 'sokusekizuke') and do need to kept refrigerated, and not kept for more than 2 weeks at most.

The pickling liquid can be used as a dressing base, although as the radishes stay in there longer the liquid does take on a radish-y odor.

These pickles are great to tuck into the side of a bento. They are also good scattered on top of sushi rice as chirashizushi (I'll try to post a picture soon!). They are good to just snack on too.

What to do with the leaves?

Don't just throw out the radish leaves - they're packed with nutrition! I like to turn them into furikake - delicious and really good for you too! This radish leaf pesto on Chocolate and Zucchini also sounds intriguing.

More pickles