Shiozuke: Salted Cucumber With Kelp

Shiozuke: Salted Cucumber With Kelp

Using salt to preserve food spans millennia. The earliest known records span back to 6000BC in an area around the Nile valley and Mesopotamia known as the fertile cresecent. Japan, however, has turned this process into the artform tsukemono

Tsukemono or pickled thing in Japan accompanies literally every meal, can be served over a bowl of rice and even forms part of the tea ceremony

The simplest of tsukemonos is salt pickle (shiozuke) and includes fermented and non-fermented varieties. The lactofermented plums in the previous post are in this category

Vegetables with a high water content such as cucumber are best just lightly and briefly salted just to extract water and concentrate their flavour without fermentation

Basic methods

  1. salt can be added directly to the vegetable
  2. the vegetables are steeped in a 5 – 10% slat-to-water brine with the help of weights. You can buy special fermentation weights or just use suitable crockery to keep the vegetables fully submerged in the pickling brine
    • 5% brine requires 8 hours pickling and will last for 2-3 days
    • 10% brine requires 5 hours of pickling and will keep closer to a week


You can pickle vegetables with or witout extra condiments. This recipe uses kombu (sea kelp) and dried chilli with whole coriander seeds. The flavour combination is potentially endless: for cucumbers try dill with sumak, or preserved lemon with black pepper. Experiment to your heart’s content

Salted Cucumber With Kombu And Chilli

Prep Time5 mins
Course: any
Cuisine: Japanese
Keyword: pickles, raw-food, salt pickle, tsukemono, vegan


  • 1 cucumber thickly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp non-iodized salt
  • a few thin strips of kombu (dried sea kelp)
  • a few thin strips of dried chilli
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds


  • put the sliced cucumber in a bowl with the salt and toss with your fingers to disperse the salt evenly. Add the coriander, kombu and chilli.
  • Rest, covered at least an hour and preferably 5 hours in the regrigerator. Set a timer so you don;t end up with overly salty vegetables
  • Before serving squeeze firmly with your hands to extraxt and discard the salty water
  • serve in a clean bowl with the kelp and chilli. Try garnishing with a few black sesame seeds
Lacto Soured Plums

Lacto Soured Plums

Our second post on the subject of tsukemono, Japanese pickles, introduces you to the subject of lacto-fermentation


Soured ume plums are an absolute staple in Japan. The small, yellow fruit is part of the genus prunus and though referred to as a plum is more closely related to the apricot. The plums are salted and allowed to ferment before the addition of crumpled red perilla leaves and finally sun-dried


Ume can sometimes be obtained in the West from Korean and Japanese stores when in season, but they are far from ubiquitous. Fortunately you can get fantastic results and comparable health benefits from standard plums. They will taste different. They’re a different fruit. But they are, in my mind, every bit as delicious.


This is an old concept and much has been written about it. What follows is a simple summary for your convenience

What is it?

Fermentation is the microbial transformation of carbohydrates into either alcohol or lactic acid. Both are useful preservatives and have been used for millennia to preserve food

Lacto-fermented foods are pro-biotic, providing health-promoting micro-organisms and their bi-products to benefit not only gut function but also strengthen the immune system and even enhance your mood

Since most fruit and vegetables naturally contain lacto-bacteria, all you have to do is to provide the conditions for these to proliferate in preference to other potentially harmful bugs. Two conditions must be met:


While salt kills most bugs our friendly lacto-bacilli don’t mind a bit of it, though they do mind a lot. So for example, the addition of anything above 7% salt by weight will start to kill our lacto-friends and cure food, but not ferment it. 2-5% salt, on the other hand, will allow lacto-fermentation to get to work on virtually any fruit or vegetable transforming it into something to grace any meal, great or humble

No oxygen

Lactofermentation will only take place in anaerobic (no air) conditions. If your fruit or veg are directly exposed to oxygen they will soon develop mould and harmful bacteria and the whole batch will spoil

There are 3 commonly-used methods for preventing aerobic exposure

  • Salting draws out water to create a brine in which you can keep your fruit immersed with the help of a weight – sliced sauerkraut is usually made this way
  • Or you can mix a brine in which to immerse your veg – this is the method used for fermented whole cabbages, the leaves of which are used to make the Turkish stuffed-cabbage dish Sarma
  • Large pieces of fruit such as plums do very well fermented inside a vacum-seal bag. These are very easily available and guarantee a scrupulously anaerobic environment. When fermenting plums this is, for me, the method of choice

Lacto-Fermented Plums

Prep Time5 mins
Fermentation time: +/-5 d
Keyword: lacto-fermentation, pickles, pro-biotic, raw-food, sides, tsukemono, vegan


  • Fermentation crock or sterilized jar with lid
  • OR
  • vacuum zip-lock bag(s)


  • 1 kg plums stoned and halved
  • 20 g non-iodized salt


Sterilize the container and all utensils

  • use a fresh vacu-seal bag
  • or, if you're using a jar or crock or a previously used vacu-seal bag wash these in warm soapy water and allow to air dry, especially in direct sun-light. Jars and crocks can be dried in an oven on the lowest setting. Lids and rubber seals can be plunged in boiling hot water before air-drying

preparing the fruit

  • wash the plums under running water, cut in half and stone
  • in a bowl toss the plums with the salt to cover evenly

vacu-seal bag

  • place in a vacuum seal bag, spaced apart by a couple of inches
  • remove all the air with a pump
    salted plums in a vacu-seal bag
  • leave in a warm place to ferment
  • when the fermentation is underway the bag will fill with CO2: burp the bag by opening, resealing and pumping out all the air once again
    lacto fermenting lums

Jar or crock

  • recipes and ideas for using fresh and dried lacto plums and their skins follw
  • place the salted plums cut-side down in layers
  • weigh them down: I fill sandwich bags with 2-3% brine, tie theem woith a firm knot and place them over the fruit covering all available space so the lid squeezes the bag tightly against the fruit
  • after a couple of days open the jar and press the fruit down so it is well immersed in its developing vinegar and releasing any air pockets at the same time. Replace brine-filled bag, adjusting the water volume as necessary to keep the fruit wholly immersed

Fermentation times

  • At 25-28C this can take around 5 days. Fermentation at higher temperatures is quicker but gives a rather more acrid result. Generally, the slower the fermentation the better the taste
  • As usual the degree of fermentation depends on your taste. I like them sharp but retaining some fruity sweetness. Let your tongue make the decision


  • the plums and their vinegar will continue to ferment. To slow this down:
  • store the fresh lacto-plums in their vinegar in the refrigerator for a month to 6 weeks
  • or sun-dry for 3 days and store without the vinegar in a jar or plastic wrapper. They will stay good potentially indefinitely without refrigertion
  • the vinegar can be stored seperately, preferably refrigerated
  • the skins can be removed and sun or oven dried until crisp, then flaked or powdered to be added as a garnish to raw salads and cooked dishes
  • recipes and ideas for using fresh and dried lacto-plums, as well the vinegar and skins follow
Misozuke: Miso Pickled Vegetables

Misozuke: Miso Pickled Vegetables

Tsukemono – The Japanese Art Of Pickling

An intrinsic part of the Japanese way of eating, tsukemono pickles accompany most major meals. Salted, fermented, vinagered or exposed to a variety of micro-organisms from miso to fermented rice-bran, these vegetable side dishes are often pro-biotic, aiding digestion, and always full of that deliciousness we know as umami

Steeped in history and tradition, and with a wide range of styles and techniques the subject of tsukemono could fill several books. But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we’ll approach tsukemono hands-on, starting with one of the simplest: miso pickling

What Is Miso?

That’s a long story too. We’ll cover some major points about miso later, including how to make it at home. For now, suffice it to that say miso is an aged micro-organism rich soy paste. Though complex in taste with varying degrees of sweetness the primary tastes are salty and umami – perfect for pickling vegetable

Which miso?

The variety of misos is great and can be daunting to the uninitiated. We’ll explore some of the major varieties in later posts. For now just remember this is a hands-on approach: use which-ever miso is available in your local shops and just get stuck-in

What about the vegetables?

Any vegetable with a good crunch can be pickled this way. Good examples include carrots, capsicums, radishes, daikon, cucumber … the list is endless. The vegetables can be immersed dirctly into the miso paste in a jar or pot, then cleaned off. A tidier method is to set up two thin layers of miso separated by a thin gauze or muslin: literally a miso bed!

What is the optimum pickling time?

Pickling times vary substantially with the type and size of the vegetable pieces, ambient temperature and of course, personal taste. Softer vegetables like radishes or cucumbers will be ready in an hour. Harder root vegetable may take 2-3 hours.

Vegetables with a high water content are best salted first to extract excess water, then rinsed to remove the all the salt before miso-pickling.

The best way is to check frequently until the taste and texture please your palate, then make a note for the next time.

How long will my miso last?

Live miso is best after 5 years. When using miso for pickling the moisture drawn from the vegetables eventually renders it unfit for the task. You should be able to use a batch for up to a month. Some suggest cooking it to remove excess moisture and any tendency to mould-growth. Though still flavourful, cooking literally kills the miso and I personally don’t recommend it. When your miso’s pickling career comes to a natural end use it in soups, stews, spreads, and marinades. Mix with a little honey or maple syrup, a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil and a splash of citrus or vinager to paint onto tofu, aubergines and other vegetables for roasting or grilling

Miso is a living organism producing a range of macro and micro-nutrients, including B vitamins and notably B12. Even pasteurised shop-bought varieties contains essential enzymes which will denature with boiling and long-cooking. As a general rule opt for adding miso to dishes at the end of cooking

Miso-Zuke: Miso Pickled Vegetables

Prep Time5 mins
Pickling times vary from 1 to several hours1 min
Total Time6 mins
Course: any
Cuisine: Asian, Japanese
Keyword: miso, pickle, probiotic, side-dishes


  • jar or pot with lid
  • or zip-lock bag
  • or flat wide ceramic dish with 3 layers of muslin or other fine cloth


Any Assortment Of Vegetables, such as

  • carrots
  • white turnip
  • capsicums
  • cucumber
  • radishes etc


  • white or red miso preferrably unpasteurized


Miso Pickling Bed

  • This is not necessary if you're immersing the vegetable directly into miso paste in a jar, pot or zip-lock bag
  • Cut 3 pieces of muslin to the size of the pickling tray
  • Using a small palatte knife spread an even layer of miso on two of the pieces of musline
  • Lay the bottom layer in the pickling tray, miso side down
  • Lay the second layer mido side up and cover with the third layer of musline

Prepare The Vegetables

  • Wash, peel (if necessary) and cut the vegetables into strips or thick slices
  • Vegetables with a high water content, such as cucumber, will benefit from salting first:
  • Sprinkle a scant teaspoon of salt and mix with your fingers to cover the vegetable evenly with salt
  • Rest for 15-30 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper kitchen towel
  • Place the vegetables between the bottom and middle layers of muslin
  • Allow to pickle 1-3 hours or longer according to taste
  • Enjoy with a bowl of rice, some tofu and a pot of hot tea
Roasted Tomato And Garlic Soup With Sautéed Figs

Roasted Tomato And Garlic Soup With Sautéed Figs

Too late to make it to the supermarket yesterday I woke to just enough milk for coffee and no bread. Oat porridge, then, with rich, thick soya cream for Sunday breakfast: veganly delicious! StillI I thought I’d better try to make the 2pm deadline for the corner shop for emergency supplies. Little bags of green thingummies in the fridge were figs. Eyeing big, ripe beef tomatoes out of the corner of one eye lunch was sorted

I’m not overly attached to eating things in season. We humans have come a long way in farming since our hunter-gatherer days, and I’m OK with that. Still, I have to admit that things taste best when in season, and figs and beef tomatoes are in season here in Extremadura. As are cherries. Paprika, mercifully, is a condiment for all seasons.

Spanish tomato soup is served with figs and slices of toasted or fried stale bread. I skipped the latter in favour of using up left-over buckwheat risotto in a frittata. Some crisp endives over rocket and a bowl of Jerte cherries rounded off the meal

Roasting Tomatoes

There many ways to skin a tomato: the most straight-forward is under a hot grill. you want the skin quite charred, but the fruit still firm. Roasting by this method cooks the tomato quite a bit, so no need to sweat them: jump straight to peeling them once they’ve cooled down enough to handle and proceed accordingly

Roasting over a flame or charcoal gives the best flavour. I have a wok-shaped pan full of holes especially for the job. I love it, and wholeheartedly recommend it. Flame roasting requires a period of sweating to cook the fuit and let the charred aromas of the skin penetrate the flesh. !5 minutes is minimum. Longer is better.

char-roasted tomatoes

The tomatoes as well as the garlic can also be blackened on a hot skillet. You’ll need to stick around to turn them over frequently, though.

If you don’t have all day you can just skip the roasting: plunge your tommies in hot water for 30 seconds, peel them and proceed accordingly. But you will be missing a whole dimension of flavour

Roasted Tomato & Garlic Soup With Figs And Goats’ Cheese

  • vegetable stock (or stock cube)
  • 2-3 ripe beef or plum tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • a splash of olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2-3 sprigs thyme
  • 3-4 ripe figs
  • a knob of butter
  • fresh goat’s cheese ((optional))
  1. Start your vegetable stock by adding whatever veg you have to hand with a handful of herbs and spices to a pan. Boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain off the solids and keep back the stock

  2. Meanwhile roast the tomatoes whole or halved if they’re very large, and garlic, skin-on in a very hot oven or grill, on a skillet or over a naked flame (see notes above)

  3. When the garlic and tomato skins are blackened wrap them in a kitchen towel over foil or plastic film and let them sweat for 20-30 minutes

  4. Slice the onion and soften in a little olive oil with the finely chopped rosemary and the thyme. Adding a little salt stops then over-browning.

  5. Skin the tomatoes and garlic. Slice the tomatoes thickly and the garlic very thinly. Add them to the onions, along with the paprika and cook for 5-10 minutes or until softened through

  6. Add the tomatoes and other ingredients to the stock, or vice versa, season with salt and black pepper to taste, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes

  7. Top and tail the figs and cut them in 4 or 6, depending on their size, and sautée in a little butter or olive oil to keep the dish vegan

  8. serve the soup in wide soup bowls topped with sautéed figs. Traditionally some toasted or shallow-fried slices of yesterday’s bread are added. I prefer a couple of medallions or soft goats’ cheese or a dollop of thick soya cream and a few chopped chives with fresh crusty wholemeal bread on the side

Mediterranean, spanish
broth, figs, soup, stock, tomatoes
Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

I’m not a fan of eating large amounts of pasta on a regular basis. When in Italy, mostly in the north, I’m served pasta in quite modest amounts as a separate course before the main. Maybe it’s different down south, but I think this is the healthier way to enjoy a bit of pasta now and then.

If you think pasta with cheese and pepper doesn’t sound like anything to write home about, well, I’m happy to say that on this occasion you’d be wrong

One of the great features of Italian gastronomy is sophistication of technique within relative, sometimes great, simplicity of ingredients. This dish, from Rome’s Lazio region illustrates this perfectly.Jump to Recipe

I’ve seen recipes adding grated cheese and a bit of pepper to pasta. Really? No! Caccio e pepe is a marriage of cheese and pepper with very lightly salted pasta water turned creamy, velvety emulsion in gastronomic heaven. It’s not hard to make, but there’s a good bit of technique. Here’s what I’ve picked up during my forays through fair Italy


The pepper is just lightly crushed with a pestle, then delicately dry toasted in a pan to bring out its perfume

Pecorino is the cheese of choice, though you’ll get great results with Parmesan or any hard aged ewes’ or cow’s cheese. To the fairly salty cheese you’ll be adding a little of the “glutinous”, salty pasta water. This requires that you use

  1. half the recommended amount of salt in the pasta water
  2. half the recommended amount of water in order to obtain that glutinous consistency

First time I made this I used too little water for the pasta and ended up with a delicious, but slightly dry result. Thus, I took to keeping a small saucepan of simmering water nearby, ready to come to the rescue. I rarely need it nowadays, but it helps me feel secure

You’ll need two pans, a deeper pan to pre-boil the pasta, and a wide, open frying pan, large enough to hold all the pasta with room to toss where you’ll finish off the dish

The pepper is dry toasted in the frying pan at medium heat just until its aroma is released. Once the pasta water starts to look gloopy, add a ladleful to the black pepper.

A couple of minutes of lively bubbling and you’re ready to add this to half the cheese in a bowl, whisking vigorously to dissolve it into a thin cream, then add the remaining cheese while the mixture is still hot for a thicker cream

The pasta is only partially cooked in its original pan and finished off in the secondary shallow pan along with a ladleful or two of pasta water and the caccio-pepe emulsion until al dente and immersed in creamy, velvety nectar – the aroma of which words fail to describe

Have your table very close by and your guests ready to tuck in. This dish waits for no-one.

Ready? Here’s the recipe

Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

Pasta with cheese and black pepper from Italy's Lazio region. Two ingredients, one big dish
Prep Time15 mins
cheese grating time5 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: any
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Keyword: cheese, ova-lacto, pasta


  • 1/2 -3/4 pounds tornarelli, spaghetti or macaroni I always use wholemeal
  • 1 cup freshly grated pecorino or parmigiano or your favourite aged HARD cheese
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • salt


grate the cheese

  • divide your grated cheese between two bowls

cook the pasta

  • follow the instructions on the packet using half the recommended amounts of salt and water
  • optionally boil some water in a small pan and have it simmering in case you run out of pasta water!
  • Cook the pasta till al dente but still a bit hard: you'll be stealing about 3-4 minutes from the recommended cooking time
    boiling pasta

prepare the pepper

  • while the pasta is cooking coarly crush the whole peppercorns in a mortar and pestle
  • when the pasta water starts to look gloopy put the crushed peppercorns in a dry large frying pan and toast on medium heat for a few seconds to just release the aromas
  • add a ladleful of pasta water to the pepper and cook on high heat for 2 minutes. This will release the pepper's aromatic oils into the water

emulsify the cheese, pepper and water

  • add the hot peppered water to half the cheese in a bowl, stirring vigiriusly to achieve a thin cream. While still hot add the relmaining cheese. If the resulting cream is too thick add spme more of the pasta water to achieve the consistency of thick double cream

finish the dish

  • transfer the pasta to the frying pan you used for the pepper along with a couple of ladle-fuls of pasta water
  • add the cheese-pepper emulsion in 3-4 stages, tossing the pasta contiuouslty. Add more pasta water to thin out if necessary and cook for 2-3 minutes until the pasta is cooked al dente and the emulsion is creamy and smooth. If if looks over sticky add a tiny bit more water, but careful!
    caccio e pepe sauce for pasta
  • Serve immediately