Daikon Radish Pickles

 Don’t cut your radishes like this!
Cut them in coins. See comments.

Even though we know–intellectually–that for centuries people have preserved food via lacto-fermentation, again, as with cultured milk, it is a head trip for grocery store kids like us to soak some veggies in brine for a few weeks, open them up and chow down.

Lacto-Fermentation is a process in which naturally occurring lactic acid producing bacteria are allowed to multiply. The lactic acid that they produce prevents the growth of the kinds of bacteria that cause spoilage. Thus lacto-fermentation is a method of preserving foods as well as a way of creating a distinct flavor. Lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, Swiss cheese, and sourdough bread among many others.

Lactic acid producing bacterias, and there are many different varieties, tend to have a high tolerance for salt unlike their unwanted bacterial cousins. The process of lacto-fermentation begins with creating a brine, which is the is the way pickles used to be made–most store bought pickles are now made with vinegar due to unwarranted safety concerns over lacto-fermentation.

Today, sauerkraut is the best known lacto-fermented food. Dill pickles are traditionally made this way too. In an old country store pickle barrel, lacto fermented pickles would sit out all winter long. All they’d do is make sure the brine always covered the pickles. They’d get stronger flavored, and softer textured as the year went on, but they lasted.

We look forward to trying this with cucumbers, but for this first experiment we used a big, pretty daikon from the farmers market. The entire process is amazingly simple:

Stir up a brine solution of 2 Tablespoons sea salt (un-iodized salt) to 1 quart water. Note that you must use salt that has no additives-check the ingredients of your salt to make sure that it contains nothing but salt. Additives in salt can prevent the lacto-fermentation process from occurring. Bottled water is best, but we used LA tap with no ill effects. The worry is that the chlorine in tap water will also interfere with the culture.

Peel and slice the daikon, and pack it into a very clean quart sized mason jar. Add a peeled garlic clove if you want. Pour the brine over the slices until the jar is nearly full. Leave just a little room at the top for gas expansion. Put the lid on, and place it your cupboard for as long as you can wait. A week, two weeks, a month–the flavor changes over time. We waited 2 weeks.

When we opened the jar it hissed and fizzed, and let off the powerful aroma of sauerkraut. We fished out the first slice, sniffed it and eyeballed it like curious but frightened monkeys. An uninformed and vague discussion of botulism followed. Finally the gauntlet was thrown down, and the challenge could not be ignored: are we wimps or are we homesteaders? So we ate of the fruit. Or one of us did. The other stood by ready to dial 911.

Yum! Our pickled daikons are salty and garlic-y and firm, and taste a lot like a good garlic dill, only with a different texture. Now that the jar is open, we’re keeping it in the fridge.

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13 Comments

  1. Two comments from the Homestead:

    1. Ant B, I wouldn’t sweat it. I suspect the peel will be not very noticable–a little like the difference between cooking with a peeled vs. an unpeeled carrot.

    2. Failing in my editorials duties, I did not notice that Mr. Homegrown used that particular photo to illustrate this post.

    PEOPLE: DON’T SLICE YOUR RADISHES THAT WAY!

    That was my first jar, and I didn’t know better. The problem with long and skinny is that the brine level drops as you eat them, leaving the tips of the remaining ones explosed, and it seems a good idea for the food mass to always remain below the brine line.

    Far better to cut the radish into coins, or short matchsticks.

    If you already have sliced them that way, I’d recommend eating them quickly, or topping of your jar with fresh brine as you go.

    Many apologies to all and sundry for this editorial oversight.

    oh, and p.s. — I don’t know why they look so pink in that photo. They will not be. But some people add beet juice to color their pickles, and that seems like a good thing. I tried tumeric on a whim in the last batch, and that was a bad thing.

    • unless of course you want them for Kimbab ;) then the coins will be a problem and you need them like this ;) (maybe one sould save some brine from one of the coin ones to fill this one up? or transfer to a ziplock bag?

    • Hmm. Good point! I think in that case I’d try to find a long, shallow container, where they can lay on their sides and still have a little brine over them.

  2. Drying daikon also has a very pleasant flavor. If you do any asian style pickling using chili oil and dried daikon, you can have an excellent side dish with rice or noodles.

  3. We made two batches. Batch one: yummy: we added dill to the solution. Batch two: had to throw out because the radishes came above the solution and the whole thing rotted. Any idea on how to keep the radishes down?

  4. Sometimes you can just skim off the scum and eat it anyways. The other option is to use a wide-mouth canning jar. Weigh down the radishes with a smaller jar filled with water that fits into the wide-mouth jar. Cover with cheese cloth to keep out bugs.

  5. Great! You can also make a daikon kimchi by adding crushed garlic, ginger, and lots of red pepper. Optional ingredients include some powdered dry shrimp, cress leaves (wonderful), scallions.

    One note – I wouldn’t seal the jars because as that fermentation happens, it can create a lot of gas > pressure > exploding jars > big mess and no pickles. :( I do it in a crock or a big plastic tupperware container. If I do it in a crock, I put a plate over the daikon to keep it under the liquid. It usually starts tasting pretty good within four days or so.

  6. Can i just say, I LOVE your article! The whole tone is refreshing, and the tips useful. I too live in LA… and it’s so nice to hear a normal, 21st century person talking about this whole process. I’ve been trying desperately to fit old-world food making into my modern-day life–it’s not easy! Your post gives me hope. Okay, I’m off to peel my daikon!
    -Julie

  7. @Heather: Just screw on the lid. They don’t keep forever. Just leave them out on the counter until they taste good to you (longer=stronger), then retire them to the fridge to stop fermentation. They’ll keep in the fridge a good long while. You can heat process them, but if you do, you kill all the healthy bacteria, which is half the point of these babies.

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