I made schnitzel and potato salad for dinner today (no writeups, I was in a hurry!) and I wanted a clean, tasty side dish. Well cucumber salad is a common German/Austrian side dish and it’s typically made with sliced cucumbers, dressed with vinegar, salt and dill – sometimes olive oil, too. I wanted to riff off of that, especially since I lacked dill. Enter tsukemono (skay-moh-noh) (correct me on my pronunciation, I know my Japanese-speaking wife is rolling her eyes).
Tsukemono is a technique of quick pickling. It takes a few hours to a few days, and you usually layer salted vegetables under weight. I opted for asazuke, which is a much shorter version. No pressing, just a half an hour.
You begin by slicing the cucumber thinly. I used a seedless English cucumber here. Avoid thick slices; you need the salt to penetrate the whole thing. A thickness of two stacked quarters is a good guide. I arrange them in one layer and gently sprinkle salt on them. Don’t be ginger about the salt – you can rinse off excess later!
The liquid in the cukes will quickly leach out with the salt and make a brine of sorts. Let it be on its own for at least half an hour while you busy yourself elsewhere.
When you’re getting close to eating time, drain them and give one a taste. Too salty? Gently rinse them in a strainer. You’re not going to hurt the fundamental flavor, but don’t get ’em waterlogged either. Then dress with a mild vinegar like the rice wine vinegar I used here. No need to drench them but the vinegar really pulls them away from raw vegetable into another arena.
You’re ready to go. These are addictive, I warn you. They are amazing snacks to accompany a beer. It’s got what I love about a drinking snack – crunch, salt, some spice or tang. At the same time, it’s not fried or full of fat. A pretty solid snack or side dish all around.
Variations? Sure! You can take it in a Scandinavian path with chopped dill. You can make it a memorable accompaniment to other dishes with some minced garlic tossed in. Nothing beats a few chiles for a good beer snack, too. The one thing you have to remember is that these make poor leftovers. Only make as many as you think you’ll eat because once they lose their fresh crunch, you’re better off going for the regular pickles.
The beer in the picture, by the way, is Blacktart by Madtree. It was made in collaboration with 14 other breweries for Cincinnati Beer Week 2015 and it was delicious. They’ll probably never make that blend again so it was fun to enjoy while it lasted. Sic transit gloria etc.