Today’s dish, Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms, is not a traditional Japanese pickled cucumber recipe. It has a complex flavour of salty, sweet, sour, nutty, and spicy – a perfect izakaya (Japanese-style tavern) dish.
I recently had Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms at a Japanese restaurant called Sekka Dining, in St Leonards. I had never had such pickles before, and it was very tasty. It went very well with warm sake.
The flavour was complex, but I could tell that the pickling liquid contained soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sugar or mirin (i.e. sweetness) and umami. In addition to the cucumber sticks, sliced shiitake mushrooms, and wood ear fungus, it also had julienned ginger and red pepper.
The dish at the restaurant was so tasty that I decided to work on replicating it so that I could share the recipe with you. My version is not exactly the same as Sekka’s dish, but I think it is pretty close and equally tasty.
What’s in My Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms
The ingredients are grouped into two components – the vegetables to be pickled and the pickling liquid.
Vegetables to be pickled
- Cucumbers cut into 5cm / 2” long triangular prism-shape pieces
- Shiitake mushrooms thinly sliced
- Wood ear fungus/black fungus/cloud ear fungus, rehydrated and julienned
- Ginger, finely julienned
- Red chilli, julienned
Wood ear fungus is included to add colour and a different texture to the dish. You can buy them at Asian grocery stores or even at some supermarkets. You can omit it if you don’t have it. The photo below shows the packet of dried wood ear fungus, a few pieces of dried and rehydrated wood ear fungus.
The amount of chilli I used in this recipe does not make the dish hot, but it does give you a hint of spiciness. You can adjust the quantity to suit to your palate.
(from top right, anti clockwise)
- Shiro dashi
- Soy sauce
- White sesame oil
- Dark sesame oil
Shiro dashi is packed with umami, so it will add a great flavour to the pickling liquid even if you use a small amount of it. Shiro dashi is a very handy seasoning to have.
But if you don’t have shiro dashi, you can use granular dashi powder diluted in a small amount of warm water to boost umami to the pickles. Details of alternative ingredients for shiro dashi are in the note section of the recipe card.
If you use granular konbu dashi powder, you can make a vegan version of Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms.
I used two different kinds of sesame oils so that the pickling liquid is not overpowered by the strong roasted sesame flavour that comes from the dark sesame oil.
About White Sesame oil and dark sesame oil
Dark sesame oil is also called toasted sesame oil and brown sesame oil. In Japan, people call it ‘goma abura‘ (胡麻油), which means sesame oil, as it is the most commonly used sesame oil.
The colour is very dark brown. White sesame seeds are roasted, then pressed to obtain sesame oil. Because of the roasting, the colour of the oil is very dark and the nutty sesame flavour is very strong.
You may have thought the dark sesame oil was made from black sesame seeds. All the sesame oils are made from white sesame seeds, unless they are specifically labelled as ‘kuro goma abura’ (黒胡麻油), indicating that the oil is made from black sesame seeds.
The flavour of the sesame oil made from black sesame seeds is even stronger than that of brown sesame oil. It is not readily available in Australia.
You may see ‘Black Sesame Oil’ on the label of the bottle of sesame oil, but it is usually made from roasted white sesame seeds.
White sesame oil is also called light sesame oil and plain sesame oil. It is called ‘shiro goma abura‘ (白胡麻油) or ‘taihaku goma abura‘ (太白胡麻油) in Japan (photo below).
The colour of white sesame oil is yellowish clear, like the colour of rice vinegar. It is made without roasting the white sesame seeds. Accordingly, the nutty flavour of the sesame is almost non-existent.
The flavour of white sesame oil is neutral, and it is best suited for salad dressing, frying and baking cakes. If you want to add a sesame flavour do not use white sesame oil.
I did not want to have a strong sesame flavour in the pickling liquid, but I needed a sufficient amount of oil. So, I used the same amount of white and dark sesame oil.
How to Make Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms need to be boiled before pickling. Once it’s done, mix all the vegetables and pickle them.
- Combine Pickling Liquid ingredients and mix well.
- Trim off the tip of the cucumber pieces lengthwise where the seeds are (centre of the cucumber). See the top-left photo above that shows before and after trimming.
- Boil sliced shiitake mushrooms in a small amount of water.
- Put all the vegetables, including the residual liquid from the boiled mushrooms, in a zip lock bag.
- Mix the vegetables well and add the pickling liquid to the bag.
- Remove air from the bag, seal and leave it in the fridge for 1-2 days.
I removed the soft part of the cucumber pieces because they contain a lot of water, which makes the pickling liquid thin.
After boiling the mushrooms, I don’t drain the water because the liquid contains umami.
Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms is a great side dish as well as nibbles to go with drinks.
It is also good as a starter before eating ramen, which is exactly what I had when I had to visit Sekka for the second time to taste their Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms.
Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms keeps about a week in the fridge.
Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms is not a traditional Japanese pickled cucumber recipe. It has a complex flavour of salty, sweet, sour, nutty, and spicy – a perfect izakaya (Japanese-style tavern) dish.
It is assumed that pickling time is 1 day.
Don't forget to see the section 'MEAL IDEAS' below the recipe card! It gives you a list of dishes that I have already posted and this recipe that can make up a complete meal. I hope it is of help to you.
- 300g / 0.7lb cucumbers (note 1)
- 100g / 3.5oz shiitake mushrooms (fresh, not dried)
- 10g / 0.4oz rehydrated wood ear fungus (also called black/cloud ear fungus, note 2)
- 10g / 0.4oz ginger , very finely julienned to 2cm / ¾” long strips
- 7g / 0.2oz red chili , finely julienned to about 3cm / 1⅛" long strips
Add shiro dashi, rice vinegar, and sugar to a jar and mix well until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the remaining Pickling Liquid ingredients to the jar and mix well.
Trim the end of the stem and slice into 3mm / ⅛" thick pieces.
Put the mushroom slices in a small saucepan, add 4 tablespoons of water (not in ingredients list), then bring it to a boil.
Reduce the heat to minimum and cook for 30-45 seconds with a lid on. Bubbles will come up. If the bubbles overflow, shift the lid to let the bubbles subside. There should be a small amount of liquid left. Transfer the mushrooms, including the liquid, to a bowl and let them cool (note 5).
Cut the cucumbers into 5cm / 2" long logs, then quarter each log vertically (note 6) to make triangular prism-shape pieces. Trim off the tip lengthwise where the seeds are (centre of the cucumber) since the centre of the cucumber contains a lot of water (see the photo in post).
Wood ear fungus: Slice the wood ear fungus pieces into 2mm / 3⁄32" wide strips.
Put all the prepared vegetables (including the residual liquid from the boiled mushrooms), chillies, and ginger in a zip lock bag.
Massage the bag or use a spoon to mix the vegetables in the bag.
Add the pickling liquid to the bag. Remove air as much as possible and seal the bag.
Keep the bag in the fridge for 1-2 days.
Serve as a side dish or nibbles for drinks.
1. I used 3 Lebanese cucumbers (similar to Persian cucumber) that were about 16-17cm / 6½" long.
2. I used several small pieces of dried wood ear fungus. I tried to weigh them before rehydrating but they were so light that my food scale could not give me the weight. 10g is the rehydrated weight.
3. I used shiro dashi to give umami to the pickles. If you don’t have shiro dashi, I recommend using a strong dashi stock combined with mirin and salt instead. In the place of 1 tbsp of shiro dashi, combine ¼ tsp granular dashi powder, 1 tsp warm water, 1 tsp mirin, and 1/8 tsp salt.
4. Unlike most commonly available brown sesame oil, the colour of white sesame oil is yellowish clear, like rice vinegar. Please refer to my post for more details about white sesame oil.
If you don’t have white sesame oil, substitute it with lightly flavoured clear oil.
5. Alternatively, place the saucepan, with the mushrooms inside, in cold water to let the pan cool down quickly.
6. The length of the stick can be slightly shorter or longer. If your cucumber is fat, you may want to cut each log into 6 wedges.
7. You can keep Pickled Cucumbers and Shiitake Mushrooms for about a week in the fridge.
8. Nutrition per serving. It is assumed that 1/3 of the pickling liquid is consumed.
serving: 116g calories: 55kcal fat: 2.6g (4%) saturated fat: 0.4g (2%) trans fat: 0.0g polyunsaturated fat: 1g monounsaturated fat: 0.9g cholesterol: 0.6mg (0%) sodium: 190mg (8%) potassium: 217mg (6%) carbohydrates: 6.8g (2%) dietary fibre: 1.1g (4%) sugar: 3.5g protein: 1.6g vitamin a: 2% vitamin c: 3.8% calcium: 1.1% iron: 2.3%