Makina No Tsukemono is a quick pickled cabbage-and-peppers recipe in a nominally Japanese style. I’ve adapted the recipe from Nippon Ryori Syu, a 1972 cookbook compiled and published by the Intermountain District Council of the Japanese American Citizen’s League (JACL). The JACL today bills itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American/Pacific Islander civil rights organization”, with more than a hundred chapters scattered across the United States. The Intermountain District comprises Utah, Idaho, and bits and pieces of neighboring states. This part of the country, then and now, is not particularly known for its large Asian population, and even today difficulties persist in sourcing traditional ingredients. Nippon Ryori Syu in large part reflects the recipes of a Japanese diaspora managing traditional menus through American supermarkets.
In Japanese cuisine, tsukemono is a catch-all term for pickled vegetables, which are a common accompaniment for many traditional Japanese meals. Makina is a personal name, and thus the recipe name translates as “Makina’s Pickles”. Strictly speaking, Makina No Tsukemono is an example of amasuzuke, which uses a sweet vinegar as the pickling liquid (as opposed to brine or soy sauce). This particular recipe uses cabbage and green peppers, though virtually any vegetable you can think of to pickle would qualify. Many tsukemonos require several days in a pickling liquid for the vegetables to soften or ferment, but Makina No Tsukemono can be ready to serve, start to finish, in about an hour. Preparation is straightforward: toast the sesame seeds, blister the peppers, chop the veggies, and toss it in the vinegar sauce.
I’ve made some simple adjustments to the original recipe based on ingredient availability. The recipe calls simply for “cabbage” and “vinegar”, which in a Mountain West supermarket in the mid-70s presumably meant a round head of green cabbage and Heinz white vinegar. I’ve substituted Napa cabbage and unseasoned rice vinegar for a more traditional preparation. The original recipe also calls for green bell peppers, which I think are pretty gross. I’ve substituted instead blistered shishito peppers, which are also quite mild but not quite as bitter as bell peppers. A mild Anaheim pepper would work just as well.
This is not a dish that is served unaccompanied. When I prepared this for my family I served it over short-grain rice with sliced pork shoulder steak, thin-sliced watermelon radish, and soy sauce and furikake on the side. I’m not sure that this is a traditional preparation, but the family went to town on it. The sweet vinegar sauce cut the richness of the pork chop, vaguely reminiscent of vinegared cole slaw and pulled pork. It may be one of the only times we’ve eaten a whole head of cabbage in a single sitting. This would also be a great accompaniment for grilled salmon shioyaki, or even a topping for a banh mi sandwich. Enjoy!
- Mix white and black sesame seeds and mash lightly in a mortar and pestle. Mix with sugar, vinegar, and salt and whisk until the mixture is clear. Set aside.
- Rinse shishito peppers and pat dry. Add whole to a hot, dry cast iron skillet and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened and all sides are lightly blistered. Let cool, remove stems, and slice into thin rings.
- Cut cabbage into thin strips, removing woody core pieces as necessary. Add shishito peppers and sauce and toss to combine.
- Add a plate or heavy object to weight down the vegetables. Let stand for 45 minutes before serving.