When I left home for college, my parents took advantage of the extra refrigerator space. I didn’t realize that so much of the fridge was devoted to feeding me until my next visit home when I saw all the extra beverages and snacks that filled the void that I had left. Taking the place of multiple bags of produce and prepared meals were now cartons of juice, stacks of yogurt (which I didn’t like during my adolescent years), and a whole shelf devoted to jars filled with… something.
Within the jars were unidentifiable white pieces floating in a clear liquid that looked like water. When I asked my parents what odd experiment they were conducting, they told me that they were pickling daikon radish. A fan of daikon, I eagerly tried a piece. I was immediately hooked.
The cold and crisp cubes of white daikon had an understatedly strong, sweet-tangy bite. They were addictive, and I found myself polishing off the rest of the pickles during my stay. I felt a bit guilty for having wiped out my parents’ stash, but they assured me it was easy to make. All in all, it’s just some daikon, sugar, vinegar, and water. Since that trip, I’ve made multiple iterations of the pickles, testing various modifications, but I always come back to my parents’ same simple recipe.
I should warn you: Making a jar of pickled daikon radish may or may not offend your olfactory sense. In other words, this stuff stinks—literally. I personally don’t mind the smell, as I’m partial to most smelly foods (cheese, garlic, onion, eggs, kimchi, etc.), but I quickly found out that most others—especially roommates—are not as easily thrilled by the scent of stinky food.
Having done some research, I learned that cruciferous vegetables (daikon radish among them) contain an enzyme in the outer layers of the cells called myrosinase. When these cells break down due to cutting or fermentation, the enzyme is released and reacts with other naturally occurring compounds, which produces the nose-offending, sulfurous aroma. Daikon radish just happens to produce particularly smelly compounds that have twice as many sulfur atoms as most other cruciferous vegetables. Keep that in mind when you’re pickling your daikon: The smell is normal and to be expected.
I’ve seen pickled daikon served alongside spicy fried chicken in Korean restaurants (presumably to help tame the heat). I’ve also realized that Vietnamese do chua is more or less the same thing but with the addition of carrots, and the vegetables are julienned or cut into matchsticks instead of chunks. In this form, you can use it to top off sandwiches (à la bánh mì), to add bite to a salad or spring roll, or in any other way much like how you would use sauerkraut. But personally, I don’t need a sandwich or salad—I just grab a fork, open the jar, and munch away on the two-bite chunks.
One of the beauties of this recipe is that aside from the daikon, which is available in many supermarkets and Asian markets, you’ve probably got everything you need to prepare it in your kitchen already.
I trim off the ends of the daikon before cutting the radish into smaller pieces. I slice each piece of daikon in half lengthwise, then cut each of those in half to produce long quarters. Finally, I cut each long piece crosswise into 1-inch chunks.
Bring a cup of water to a boil in a small pot, and then lower it to a simmer. Add several cloves of crushed garlic and let simmer for 5 minutes. I find that cooking the garlic for just a few minutes mellows it out.
Turn off the heat, stir in the sugar to dissolve, and then stir in your white vinegar. Brines don’t get much easier than that!
Place the daikon pieces in a one-quart jar or glass container and pour your pickling liquid over. All of the liquid probably won’t fit in the jar—feel free to discard or save the leftover liquid for another pickling endeavor.
Let the jar cool to room temperature, then cover and place it in the fridge. Two days later, you’ve got a crunchy, tangy, sweet snack.
Find this and other great DIY recipes in The America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook.