When I was in Japan, I unexpectedly fell in love with their pickles. I thought I would go there and eat sushi and kushimono (串もの, things on a stick, like chicken teriyaki) and leave a happy woman. But there was such crazy diversity to the little side dishes they had, and I found that one of my favorite things to buy wherever I went was tsukemono, side-dish pickles. If you are familiar with Korean banchan, they are very similar.
My favorite pickle was shibazuke, made with purple shiso (an herb kinda like a cross between mint and basil), ginger, myoga (ginger bud), eggplants, and cucumbers.
I grew some shiso in my garden this year just to make these pickles. Yay!!
(thanks to Shiro Gohan for the recipe!)
Disclaimer - this calls for a lot of Japan-specific herbs. I could only find them at a specialty Japanese market (I had to special order the myoga). I'm sure you could order them online as well.
-about 40 leaves of purple shiso (akajiso, 赤紫蘇)
-2 medium cucumbers, preferably the skinny Japanese kind
-2 small Japanese eggplants (chinese works too, you want the long skinny ones)
-1 5-6 inch piece of ginger (a medium size piece)
-4 ginger buds (myoga, ミュウガ)
-coarse sea salt, for pickling.
Wash all the veggies and herbs. Put the shiso in a bowl, and sprinkle with 1/2 Tbs coarse sea salt, or enough to coat everything. Let sit for about 20 minutes, then gather all the shiso in your hands and squeeze until all the lovely purple juice comes out of it. If it needs additional time, let it sit longer-you want to extract a lot of the juice from the shiso (note-the recipe I used even said to do this, but I forgot and threw the shiso in with everything else. I think it would have been better with this extra step).
Cut the eggplant and cucumber into small, bite size rectangles - each rectangle is about a 1/4 inch thick and 1 or 2 inches long. After cutting the eggplant, soak it in cool water so it doesn't brown. Peel the ginger and cut into thin strips. Also cut the myoga into thin strips. Cover all this in about 2 Tbs coarse salt, or enough to coat, and let sit for 20-30 minutes. You should see juice from all the veggies forming at the bottom of the bowl by now - yay osmosis!
Then toss the juiced shiso leaves, veggies, and the shiso and veggie juice into a pickling pot (or for me, a tall, skinny tupperware that holds everything). The way you pickle everything is by putting a weight on it and allowing the veggies to excrete all the juice necessary to cover themselves. At this point too, you want to taste the salt and see if it's a good level - you want it to be significantly saline, just like if you were doing traditional cucumber pickles (basically, salty enough to pucker, but not unbearable).
Once everything is in the pickling pot, put the pickling weight on it. If you're doing old-school tupperware like me, I just put a smaller tupperware (like a left over cream cheese container) on everything and put a jar of sundried tomatoes on it (cause it was hefty enough to weigh down the veggies - something like a can of beans or even just rocks would do). Then I covered the tupperware, and let it sit in my fridge for a week, stirring once halfway through.
At the end, throw your veggies in a jar, cover it with the juice that the veggies have made themselves (you want to cover everything, so if you need additional liquid just mix 1 Tbs salt in 1.5 cups water and pour till the veggies are covered), and enjoy!
My favorite way to eat these is in onigiri, where you mix chopped shibazuke into the rice, or on top of plain steamed rice. They're also great as a small side dish or a snack :) いただきます！(Itadakimasu!)