Three Leaf and Radish Pickles

Three Leaf and Radish Pickles

Learn how Atsushi demonstrates the traditional Japanese philosophy of 'mottainai' by preparing tsukemono, pickled vegetables, from often discarded turnip, daikon, and radish leaves. This article provides the recipe and technique for making these delicious pickles at home using sea salt and simple ingredients.

As he cooked, Atsushi often repeated a central tenant of traditional Japanese cooking: mottainai -- don't waste. He demonstrated this philosophy by preparing tsukemono, pickled vegetables, from the leaves of turnips, daikon and radish, leaves that are often cut off their edible roots and thrown in the garbage. The leaves taste quite sharp fresh, but the pickling mellows them out. As Atsushi prepared the pickles, I noticed him automatically picking up every stray bit of ingredient. A force of habit -- a force of mottainai.

Here's what you need for this tsukemono:

  • 1 bunch of turnip leaves
  • 1 bunch of daikon radish leaves
  • 1 bunch of radish leaves
  • 1 bunch of red radishes
  • Japanese wet sea salt (briney, minerally sea salt that still have seawater in it) or a good coarse sea salt

(You might have to find a farmers market to buy these roots with leaves - the roots I see in markets are typically already shorn of their wonderful leaves.)

The technique: Wash the leaves in plenty of cold water and drain (we filled my sink with water). Align the leaves so the stems all face the same way, and make three piles, one for each kind of leaf. Cut the leaves into 1-inch or smaller slices. When you get to the stems, cut them into even smaller pieces, about a 1/2-inch of so. Also, if the leaves are large, cut them in half lengthwise. Place all the cut leaves in a mixing bowl.

Now cut the red radishes in half lengthwise (cut through the middle of the green part on top) and slice each half very thinly. Add to the mixing bowl.

Liberally add salt and start mixing the leaves and radishes together. They'll immediately begin releasing water and start shrinking. How much salt? The leaves tasted really salty at this stage at this stage, so don't skimp on the salt.

Put the mixture in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, squeeze out excess water and discard. You can eat the pickles at this point. You'll still taste the bitterness of the greens, which I find refreshing and appealing, especially with rice at the end of a meal, but the saltiness has mellowed. If you keep the pickles in the fridge another day or two (after you squeeze out the water) they'll evolve further.

When you try this dish, I'd be grateful if you could let me know in the comments how it turns out. Did it work? Any questions or thoughts?