When pickling, you either ferment the food itself, or add something fermented to it–often vinegar. Both methods not only preserve the vegetables throughout a long winter, but add layers of flavor, piquant, pucker-worthy ones at that. For a refreshing experiment this summer, I eschewed my common brines and procedures for a pack of white miso, that fermented soybean paste, for a sweet and really simple traditional Japanese pickle, misozuke.
If you like miso salad dressings, you can appreciate this pickle. It’s like an amplified version where the cucumbers largely surrender to the force. I’ve seen how miso paste gets absorbed by fish overnight for an intense, rich flavor, and how it’s used to ferment tofu to create an aged cheese-like tofu misozuke, too. Leave miso slathered on something, and it’ll transform into more than the sum of its parts.
Cucumbers are such a practical vegetable to pickle because they grow so prolifically in the summer, and they’re kind of bland-tasting to begin with. For the last five weeks, I’ve gotten cucumbers from my CSA in greater installments. And you can’t cook down those cukes, like I’ll do for the kale and leafy greens. (Well, you could, but I wouldn’t want to see the results.) Cucumbers however do pose a problem for pickling: they’re so watery that you’ll want to express much of its liquid prior to coating in the miso mixture for these (and with cold-pack pickling, they run the risk of becoming mushy). It’s recommended to let the sliced cucumbers sit with salt under a weight of some sort one night before you begin this recipe. Don’t worry, they’ll still give a crunch, but a tighter, denser sort of crunch afterward.
What I love about this miso pickle is that you can taste it throughout its evolution from a lightly marinated cucumber to a fully cured and robust-tasting pickle. Toss it on salads or a bowl of rice with avocados, cherry tomatoes and baby greens for a tasty and light summer meal. Or stuff it into sandwiches and burgers instead — see if your friends notice its unique flavor at the cookout.
Miso-Pickled Cucumbers (Misozuke)
(makes about 1 pint)
1 lb cucumbers, sliced into 1/4″ discs
1/2 cup white (or “shiro”) miso
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
Toss the cucumber slices with the salt to coat evenly. Place the cucumbers in a colander and place a bowl that fits snugly on top of the pile. Add heavy objects inside the bowl to weigh the cucumbers down. Let this sit (room temperature is fine) for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Pat the cucumbers dry with paper towels. In a large bowl, whisk together the miso paste, sugar and vinegar. Toss the cucumbers evenly with the mixture and transfer them into a jar or airtight container and ensure that the cucumbers are covered with the miso mixture. Refrigerate. Enjoy after just 1 day or up to 30 days afterward. You can rinse and pat dry the cucumbers for serving. The miso pickling mixture can be reused with new vegetables afterward.
(for 1 pint of pickles)
1 lb cucumbers (from CSA): $2.00
1/2 cup white miso (from a large tub for $6): $1.50
2 tablespoons sugar: $0.20
2 tablespoons rice vinegar: $0.30
2 teaspoons salt: $0.10
Three brownie points: Pickling is a process for preserving foods, rather than serving at their ultimate freshness. That said, many processes actually increase the health benefits of fresh foods by creating beneficial bacteria, as per lacto-fermenting. But this is not what we did. What we did here was add a naturally fermented product, miso, which in itself has numerous health benefits, from protein richness to aiding digestion. This gets absorbed by the cucumbers, but they’re not quite as potent as fermented vegetables, and as with most types of pickles, there’s a lot of sodium.
Five maple leaves: It’s nice to store away some of my CSA farm’s apparent bumper crop of cucumbers, so that they don’t grow moldy in my fridge. Pretty much anything in your crisper drawer can be preserved somehow, so learning more methods of doing so is a fun way to waste less. However, this technique involved imported ingredients like the miso and rice vinegar. Unless you’re up for making and aging these products, you can at least be assured that there are plenty of certified organic brands of them out easily accessible now.