Asian Cucumber - Key - ©

Eastern Secrets: Real Asian Ingredients III

We’ve touched on the Asian tradition of pickling in our discussion about Kimchi in a previous post and it’s time to continue that talk with a look at two ubiquitous Asian ingredients that are also commonly pickled. One is the Asian Cucumber. The other is the famous, gargantuan Daikon Radish…

Daikon radish - © lunchaporter.typepad.comThe Classic Daikon root. Alas, the leafy, green upper fronds are not included…
They, too, are coveted by Asian Chefs.

The Daikon Radish

The Daikon is grown – in various forms – in almost every Asian country and plays a leading role in many of those cuisines. So, it should come as no surprise that the vegetable goes by a number of different names, depending where you are. ‘Daikon’ is the Japanese name for this singular crunchy delight. That’s also the name by which it is known in Most of the Western World, but you may also see it billed as ‘Icicle Radish’ or ‘Long White Radish’. However, if you’re in China or Malaysia, ask for ‘Lo Pak’. In several South Asian countries, it’s known as ‘Mooli’. And in Singapore (because Singapore just has to be different about a lot of things) it’s called ‘Chai Tau’.

Daikon is normally firm but quite easy to slice and tastes rather bland, though slightly sweet and slightly peppery. The older, bigger and dryer the roots get, the woodier, tougher and hotter they get. Flavour also varies from variety to variety across the Daikon’s vast Asian range.

Daikon is used in many ways in Asian cuisine. You can pickle it, of course, sometimes mixed with other root vegetables, usually prepared in a Julienne cut and fermented in small jars. You can also deep fry it, grind it for use in cakes and sauces, or simply slice or Julienne it for inclusion in salads or main dishes and Veggie medleys. The green, leafy tops are also used in salads and other classic Asian Dishes…

The Asian Cucumber

Asian Cucumber - © centexcooks.comThe Asian Cucumber, in one of it’s many varieties. Bet you looked at this in the
Asian Grocery more than once and didn’t even know it was Cucumber!

Yup, that squirrely, gnarly pale green thing you’ve passed over more than once at the produce counter is actually a Cucumber. And an Asian one, at that!

Bet you didn’t know that the dark green, smooth-skinned Cukes we favour in Western cuisine were native to India. British traders and military families brought them back to England and they proliferated across the Western World from there. Today’s ‘Asian’ Cucumber is grown across China and Southeast Asia. It looks very unlike our Cucumber, in as much as it’s usually longer, thinner, lighter in colour and quite curly. It also has longitudinal corrugations which, among other things, make nice round slices across their diameter (see photo above) festively crenelated, without any additional effort.

For all their unique qualities, these exotic gourds are still 90 per cent water, like their more familiar cousins, so you can imagine how well they take to similar treatments: Pickling, Salads, Stir Fries, Soups…

But there’s more!

You can also use both Daikon Radish and Asian Cucumber to make ‘alternative’ Kimchi-style preserves! And they do, all across China, Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia…

There’s lots more to know and enjoy about these Asian staples. Go out and explore. You’ll be glad you did!

~ Maggie J.