I was perusing the Asian market up the street from our house earlier this week in search of dried shiitake mushrooms, mirin, and pickled ginger for my Milk Street Tuesday Night Recipe this week and was thinking about just how little we utilize pickled things when cooking in the US.
The Asian market is small – 5 aisles at most – but almost an entire aisle was dedicated to pickled things. I took particular notice of this because of my quest for pickled ginger (which I did ultimately find). But they had a little bit of everything that was equally as intriguing – pickled garlic, pickled bamboo shoots, pickled papaya, pickled peppercorns – so many options!
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Pickled Asian Vegetables: A love story
And there’s a reason why these pickled things are so delicious – they provide little hits of all almost all the things we crave in foods (crunchiness! saltiness! acidity! sweetness!).
In fact, one of my favorite things about eating in Vietnam and Thailand was spying which condiments were going to be included with your meal. The standouts for me were always the pickled things.
For example, Khao Soi is not Khao Soi without the pickled mustard greens.
Bun Cha is not Bun Cha without the pickled papaya.
Banh Mi is not Banh Mi without pickled vegetables.
Why Quick Pickling is the Best
I love that we have the ability to buy such a variety of pickled things from the store – that’s literally why pickling became a thing, to make fresh foods that have a limited growing season shelf stable throughout the year. But sometimes you want fresher pickles, or you want the ability to customize your flavors, or you legitimately have an abundance of produce that needs to be preserved.
In any of those cases – or just because you’re curious – quick pickling is my go to. Quick pickling differs from regular pickling because we’re not full on canning – no boiling mason jars, no making sure seals are just right. We’re not pickling these to store at room temperature for many months, we’re pickling them to store in the refrigerator for 1-2 months.
So this means quick pickling is easier, less time consuming, and as a result way more approachable.
Quick Pickled Asian Vegetables: Key Ingredients
When you’re pickling vegetables for use in Asian or Vietnamese dishes like these Noodle Bowls, or Banh Mi, I change things up a bit than if I’m pickling vegetables for something like this Slow Cooked Italian Beef.
The big main difference? I use unseasoned rice wine vinegar instead of regular white distilled vinegar as my main pickling agent. It gives that unmistakable Asian flavor to the pickled vegetables.
Unseasoned rice wine vinegar is also my favorite for creating Asian inspired salad dressings (perfect for which to use these pickled Asian vegetables!).
The next key differentiator for pickled Asian vegetables is (duh) the type of vegetables you use! I unequivocally and wholeheartedly recommend using daikon radish for your pickled vegetables.
Daikon radish is big – more similar in shape and size to a really big, fat carrot than of the small, red, globe shaped radishes you can buy at the grocery store. It’s also really, really crunchy in the most pleasant way.
I find it has more water content than a typical radish but still has a really crisp crunch. Daikon radish is also very mild and not spicy like other radishes. It’s my go to for pickled condiments, especially on a banh mi.
Pickled daikon and carrots together is classically Vietnamese and called Đồ chua, so I almost always add carrots to my mix as well. I also like my pickled vegetables with a little kick, so jalapenos join the party too.
And is it really a pickle party without cucumbers? Didn’t think so. I add those in there too.
You can get crazy here and add other spices like ginger, garlic, lemongrass, etc. Play around with it! You might just find the untapped flavor combination you had no idea was missing from your life.
Using Pickled Asian Vegetables
I probably don’t even need to tell you that these pickled Asian vegetables are amazing on banh mi. Or that I have a banh mi recipe coming at you on Sunday that I’ve literally been bursting to share (figuratively literally not literally literally).
But I also add these vegetables to Banh Mi pizza (yes, I made that), and to salads. And these noodle bowls. And cold straight out of the refrigerator. They SO good, and I know you’ll love them too!
Quick Pickled Asian Vegetables
These quick pickled Asian vegetables are wonderfully crunch and addictive – they add a hit of sweetness and acidity to any dish they’re added to!
- 1 large daikon radish
- 2 large carrots peeled
- ½ small English cucumber sliced
- 2 jalapenos sliced
- 1 ½ cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 ¼ tsp kosher salt
Start by peeling the daikon and carrots and cutting both into large matchsticks along with the English cucumber. Slice the jalapenos as well. Deseed them if you prefer to limit the spice.
Heat rice wine vinegar, sugar, and kosher salt in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Stir so sugar is dissolved and bring to a simmer.
While the pickling liquid comes to a simmer, fit the cut vegetables into one extra large mason jar very tightly.
Once the liquid comes to a simmer, pour the hot liquid over the vegetables in the mason jar.
Let cool with the lid off for at least 30 minutes, then close the lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.