This pickle is currently my favorite quick pickle. Astonishing, really, that four naked ingredients can meld together so beautifully, so gently, so easily.
As with all recipes calling for only a handful of ingredients, results depend on using the freshest, highest quality and most flavorful components possible. Buy ginger with skin that is still smooth and moist and shiny, perhaps even sporting a few pinkish buds visible on its smaller knobs.
Perilla leaves, also known as shiso, have a distinctive flavor softly reminiscent of lemon, anise and mint. It’s popular in Vietnamese wraps and soups, and the red variety of the herb traditionally gives umeboshi perserved plums their familiar pink color. Look for fresh perilla in the produce aisle of Asian markets. However, I’d have to insist that you don’t even bother making this pickle if the leaves show any wilting or browning. You might, then, consider using celery leaves or mint leaves as an emergency fix. You could also create an interesting Mediterranean spin using fresh basil leaves and substituting tiny strips of sun-dried tomato, shreds of a well-aged cheese or minced garlic for the ginger.
If you can’t find the slender, nearly seedless Japanese cucumbers, substitute with English or Persian cucumbers. You can also use young, short Kirby cucumbers, the ones typically sold in grocery stores for home canning; just cut them at a less oblique angle.
Cucumber Stuffed with Perilla and Ginger
This was inspired by Seiko Ogawa’s Easy Japanese Pickling.
Makes about 2 cups.
2 Japanese cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 inch ginger, peeled
12-15 perilla leaves, cut in half along the main vein
Cut the cucumbers diagonally into thick “pocket sandwiches” by slicing only 3/4 of the way through the cucumber on every other cut. Sprinkle evenly with the salt, easing a few grains into each pocket, and set aside.
Slice the ginger thinly. Stack the slices, a few at a time, and cut into fine shreds. Place a pinch of ginger crosswise at the center of a halved perilla leaf, fold the leaf in half, and stuff it gently inside one of the cucumber pockets. Continue with the remaining ingredients. (If you have trouble with the cucumbers breaking, leave them to soften in the salt for 15 minutes.)
Arrange the cucumbers in flat layers inside a wide, nonreactive bowl. Cover with plastic film, place a plate or pot lid over the cucumbers, and weight with heavy cans. Leave for 30-60 minutes.
Drain any liquid that the cucumbers give off before serving. This pickle is best enjoyed the same day it’s made.