Why It Works
- A mixture of spicy and mild chiles lends the pickles—and the versatile pickling liquid—just the right amount of heat.
- The salty-sweet balance of the brine gives you savory pickles that stand out as part of a larger meal.
- Heating the brine before pouring it over the vegetables speeds up the flavoring process.
Vegetable preservation in Korean cuisine is commonly associated with kimchi-making, but there are plenty of other styles of pickles and ferments in the banchan extended universe. One of my favorites is jangajj, or soy sauce-pickled vegetables. Crunchy, salty, sweet, often spicy, and endlessly adaptable with seasonal produce, jangajji is where it’s at. And, best of all, this style of quick pickle couldn’t be easier to make.
The principles of jangajji-making are simple: make a brine of soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar, bring it to a boil, pour it over crisp and sturdy raw vegetables, and then let them marinate. You can use a wide variety of vegetables, based on what’s in season and available, although jangajji is commonly made with perilla leaves, cucumbers, garlic scapes, chayote squash, moo radish, and chile peppers. My favorite version of jangajji, sold at H-Mart in plastic clamshell containers, is made with jalapeños, onion, garlic, and radish. It’s a perfect combination: spicy chile, crisp sour radish, and a punch of allium from the onion and garlic. The pickling liquid is vinegary, salty-savory from soy sauce, and quite sweet because of a heavy dose of sugar.
This recipe for jangajji is an homage to my favorite supermarket pickle, with an extra savory boost from fish sauce and a more complex sweetness from maple syrup. And while the pickled vegetables are delicious, I’ve found the pickling brine ends up being the true reward of this very simple process, a savory elixir that can be drizzled over bowl of juk, served as a dipping sauce for pajeon or sliced raw fish, or whisked with a little sesame oil to make a dressing for salad greens.
When preparing this jangajji, focus on the ratio of vegetables instead of going on the hunt for a specific variety of chiles or hard-to-find fruits or vegetables. I like using equal parts sweet peppers, hot chile peppers, and sweet crunchy vegetables. In the peak of summer when farmers markets are brimming with all kinds of chile varieties, I love to mix rare lemon drop peppers with my hot chile mix, and floral aji dulces with the sweet. For spicy chiles I love jalapeños, fresnos, serranos (I wouldn’t recommend going with anything hotter), cherry bomb, and Italian long hots. For sweet peppers I love shishitos, Korean chile peppers, Jimmy Nardellos, vine sweet mini peppers, aji dulces, or even bell peppers if I can’t find anything more interesting. For crunchy vegetables, daikon or Korean moo radish, kohlrabi, chayote, Korean chamoe melon, or turnips are all great options.
The jangajji possibilities are endless so get your hands on some late summer produce and have fun with it!