- Skill Level: Easy
- Cost: Inexpensive
- Favorited: 2 Times
Can be made ahead of time.
We’ve been struck by how often there’s a little radish included in Tibetan dishes. The radishes in Tibet are large and mostly white, like high-altitude cousins of the daikon radish (known also as icicle radish, or by its Hindi name, mooli). Some have a blush of pink on them, and they are sometimes rounded rather than long and straight. In this book we’ve called for daikon whenever Tibetan radish is traditionally used.
In Tibet, radishes also come to the table as a condiment, like a concentrated little salad. The radish is grated, then stored with flavorings in a vinegar brine and allowed to stand; in a few days, it’s ready to be eaten. Like any household standby, radish pickle can vary a lot, depending on the cook’s tastes or family traditions.
We learned our version from our friend Tenzin, in Lhasa. We have known him since the first time we were in Tibet, in 1985, when he ran the travelers’ hostel we stayed at near the Jokhang Temple. Each time we planned to stay in Lhasa, we’d write ahead to Tenzin to try to book our favorite room. We’d give him English lessons, sitting out on the roof, looking over the old section of Lhasa, with its flat rooftops, to the golden ornaments on the Jokhang Temple and the hills beyond.
When I returned to Lhasa after a gap of nineteen years, I found Tenzin married and with a good job. It was wonderful to see him so settled and content. I had a lot of food questions for him, and we spent time in his kitchen talking about basics, including this pickle. Tenzin told me that some people also put in garlic or MSG. We prefer to flavor ours with only ginger, Sichuan pepper, scallion, and a little onion.
This pickle is very tart and vinegary (though it mellows over time), and is meant to be eaten as a condiment, an accompaniment to meat and rice, not on its own. (But I also love to eat it a nontraditional way: I start with good bread, perhaps lightly toasted, spread on unsalted butter, then top it with generous clumps of pickled radish.)
The radish is cut into long, thin shreds, which we do using a coarse grater; you could also slice it into julienne using a Benriner or other vegetable slicer. The shreds are placed in a jar with the flavorings, the salt and vinegar are added, and the jar is sealed and shaken to mix all the flavors. Then it’s set in the sun to ferment for a couple of days. In warm weather, the pickle is ready in 2 days; in colder weather, or with cloudy days, allow 4 days.
Because daikon radish is available all year round, this quick pickle can be made at any time of year and stored in the refrigerator for weeks. When the jar starts to run low, it’s time to make another batch.
Place the radish, scallions, onion, and ginger in a large bowl and toss to mix them well. Stuff half the mixture into a sterilized 4-quart jar and add 1 tablespoon of the salt and the garlic and/or Sichuan pepper if you wish. Add the remaining radish mixture and the second tablespoon of salt, and pour on the vinegar, which should cover the mixture completely. Seal and shake the jar to distribute the vinegar well.
Place in a sunny spot by a window for 2 to 4 days (see headnote), giving the jar a shake occasionally to help blend the flavors. It is now ready to use. The pickle will keep indefinitely if well sealed and refrigerated.
To serve, use a clean spoon or fork or chopsticks to lift out a clump of radish strands and place them in a condiment bowl.
Nutritional information is based on 16 servings.