My grandmother had a friend who owned a Japanese restaurant. When she ran out of tsukemono, she quickly made up a batch of simple, salted nappa cabbage to offer her customers. She taught my grandmother how to squeeze the cabbage to hasten the process. Unbeknownst to us, this is a common method used in many Japan households but we were impressed that a tsukemono could be made and eaten after only a few hours. Until then, we thought all tsukemono took days, weeks or months to ferment or pickle. We learned that this particular quick salted version is called asazuke.
My mother made many types of tsukemono that she fermented or brined for weeks as our mouths watered in anticipation. Pickled baby peaches, salted plums, miso cabbage, mustard eggplant. Sometimes, she bought salted mustard cabbage and re-pickled it by putting it in her own sweet brine. She threatened us with bodily harm if we opened up a jar before she gave the go ahead.
Traditionally, tsukemono was served as a final course but in most Japanese restaurants today, it is served as an appetizer before the main meal. Tsukemono is also known as okoko, oshinko or konomono which all mean gfragrant dish.h Making tsukemono was a good way to extend the shelf-life of crops with the use of salt, another treasure from the sea. The Japanese can make a meal out of tsukemono and steamed rice. It is a very important part of the Japanese meal, and many types of vegetables are turned into tsukemono.
This simplest of okoko recipes is just salted cabbage, both readily available and inexpensive. It has a light flavor but it is good in a pinch when you just cannot enjoy a meal without some sort of tsukemono.
Salted Cabbage Tsukemono
1 medium-sized head cabbage
1 Tbsp. salt
Wash cabbage. Remove the hard stem end and slice the leaves thinly. Place the sliced nappa in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle on the salt. With hands, squeeze the salt into the cabbage. Continue kneading until the leaves become slightly limp and moisture comes out. Allow this to sit at room temperature for a few hours. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Store it covered and consume it within two or three days.
You can substitute head cabbage but be sure to shred it. Other vegetables that can be quickly salted in this manner and included with the nappa include Japanese cucumbers, carrots and Japanese eggplant. Knead the salt into the vegetables. Squeeze out the moisture before serving with a bit of soy sauce.