Gingery Pickled Greens that Stay Tasty All Winter Long


When my husband and I moved to Nagano, Japan, this fall, we rented a traditional post-and-beam house at the foot of the Japan Alps. It came complete with straw tatami mats and sliding paper-covered doors in the living room, seventies-style orange and yellow linoleum in the kitchen, and a detached bathhouse that sometimes requires a sprint through rain or snow to reach. It also came with a lifetime’s worth of stuff. From bedroom closet to garden shed, it was full of possessions that had belonged to the elderly woman who lived here for decades before we moved in. After she passed away a few years ago, her family kept using the house for holiday get-togethers. They became our landlords, and when we moved in, they told us to do what we wanted with whatever we found.

Our first month in the house was part treasure hunt, part endless spring cleaning. We opened closet doors to discover towering stacks of futons, wool blankets, and comforters (over fifteen sets, it turned out). The glass and wood cabinets in the kitchen were stocked with enough dishes to amply supply a restaurant, and additional tea sets, beer glasses, hot plates, and thermoses were stashed throughout the house. Sun porches revealed train sets, inflatable pools, and copious kerosene heaters. These had all been carefully maintained for the yearly visits from the extended family, our neighbors told us.

Out in the storerooms we found all the miscellaneous trappings of a small-scale farm: rusting scythes, skeins of rope, fruit crates, bamboo baskets, and snow shovels. But the best discovery was a storehouse stacked with the relics of pickle making.  Being a pickle addict myself, I admiringly washed and set aside the various crocks, weights, lids, and jars, dreaming of how I would revive them with my own favorite recipes. In one corner of the shed, I found a yellow plastic tub big enough to easily fit a toddler or two. When would I reach that level of pickle production? I wondered.

Turns out that day came sooner than I could have guessed. Earlier this week I had the good fortune of receiving ten kilos (about 20 pounds) of greens from a nearby farmer looking to give away the last of her crop before the really cold weather set in. In this area, families pickle the greens in the fall and eat them until the snow melts in the spring. Having an enormous yellow tub on hand, I thought I’d give it a try, and share the recipe with you.

You’ll end up with something quite different from the pickled Chinese cabbage I blogged about a few weeks ago. That recipe requires fermenting with salt; this one involves submerging the greens in a bath of vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar spiked with chili and ginger. Because of that difference, this recipe is pretty much fail-proof (no need to deal with bacteria, which can be tricky), and perhaps more friendly to the average Western palate. The recipe given here makes enough to last through the winter, but of course you can experiment with smaller quantities.

Gingery Pickled Greens (Recipe courtesy of Amelia Mizutani)


Winifred Bird
12/30/2010 4:22:51 AM

Here in Japan rice vinegar is the standard, but this doesn't seem to be a finicky recipe, so I think white vinegar or cider vinegar would work just as well. I'm not sure about the low sodium soy sauce, though. Salt is important for preserving the vegetables, and I've never heard of anyone using low sodium soy sauce for making pickles. It would definitely be no problem if you just made up a small batch to eat within a week or two, but I don't think I'd recommend it for long-term keeping.

Mimi Holmes
12/23/2010 1:53:38 PM

Would this recipe work with a low sodium soy sauce? What type of vinegar did you use: rice, white or cider? Sounds yummy!

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