My debut cookbook, My Shanghai: Recipes and stories from a city on the water, is about Chinese homestyle food from a family in Shanghai – my family’s food. While Shanghai’s cuisine is often referred to as sweet, it does mean simplifying the region’s palate. Instead, the kitchen focuses on the liveliness of the ingredients. In my book, I highlight the abundance of products that can be found in Shanghai and the surrounding regions, whose land is abundantly fed by China’s longest river, the Yangtze. Its tributaries run through the region, creating not only picturesque water towns, but also fertile land full of living products.
This recipe, radish pickled in soy, is a perfect example of a seemingly simple dish that is full of flavor thanks to careful, deliberate preparation. The fermentation pulls out the sweet notes of the radishes. This crispy, flavorful, juicy cucumber is meant for ai kai wei, which means “open appetite,” but I sneak in during a meal or even as a snack outside of a meal. It’s delicious as part of a pickle for breakfast Congee– In fact, sometimes I just have congee with these soy-pickled radishes. It’s hard to resist touching the daikon for two days, but the resulting cucumber is well worth it: hearty but sweet, flavorful and crispy.
Here’s what you do: Choose a daikon radish that is white and firm, with no visible holes or discoloration. I’m looking for a firm, small radish, about 2 inches in diameter and 9 inches long. You don’t have to peel it as the skin will be nice and crispy and hold the intervertebral discs together. However, if bruises or “hairs” grow out, you can peel that part off.
After washing, cut and discard the ends and cut into ¼ “slices 1 teaspoon. kosher salt and let rest for 30 minutes. Rinse, drain and toss with 1 teaspoon. Granulated sugar this time let it rest for half an hour. Do this twice more, rinsing and draining a total of three cycles of salt and sugar between each step. This process frees the raw daikon from its spicy and bitter taste, leaving behind its deep, floral notes.
After the final rinse and drain, gently squeeze the daikon to wring out any excess liquid. Now place the slices in a clean, non-reactive container. Next, make a brine solution of light soy sauce, rice vinegar, black vinegar, and sugar. For 1 daikon I use roughly ⅓ cup of light soy sauce, 2 TBSP. Rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon. black vinegar, and 2 TBSP. sugar. However, the ratios can be played with your preferences. I like a spicy cucumber, but if you want a salty one, add more soy sauce or cut down on the amount of sugar. Stir together to dissolve the sugar, then pour this mixture over the radish and add enough boiled and then cooled water to the container until the daikon slices are just covered (usually about half a cup). Let rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 days. Pickles stay in the refrigerator for a month (and they will taste stronger).
In deciding which recipes to include in my book, I consciously selected recipes that can be made at home for all levels, and I particularly wanted to include the recipes that cause constant rotation in my own kitchen . This is certainly one of them.
My Shanghai: Recipes and stories from a city on the water by Betty Liu
Partial excerpt from MY SHANGHAI by Betty Liu. Copyright © 2021 by Betty Liu. Published by Harper Design, a reprint from HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission.