1. Combine the miso, garlic, mirin, and sake in a small mixing bowl to form a thick paste. Watery vegetables, like cucumbers and daikon, should first be lightly tossed with the salt and left to drain their excess moisture for an hour. Rinse and pat completely dry before continuing.
2. Submerge the vegetables in the paste; don't use more vegetables than can be covered in a thick layer of the paste. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 day. Wipe off or rinse off miso before eating.
3. The miso-doko (that is, the pickling bed) will last several days on the countertop (this is handy if you're pickling frequently). To add to its longevity, refrigerate the miso-doko between uses. Depending on the water content of the vegetables you're curing, one miso bed can be reused upward of ten times. If you're still enjoying the flavor, continue to reuse it. If it gets too watery to adhere well to the vegetables, drain off the excess liquid. Old pickling beds will eventually lose their salty and sweet flavor, but they can still be used as marinades or soup bases.
Note: For easier cleanup that will help preserve your miso pickling bed, spread half of the miso mixture in a small square container and cover with a layer of thin cotton cloth (like muslin or a square cut out of an old kitchen towel; cheesecloth is too porous unless triple-layered). Spread the cut vegetables in a single layer, and then place another layer of cloth with the remaining miso mixture spread on top. Once the vegetables are cured to your liking, simply lift off the top layer of fabric and remove the vegetables--no rinsing required. Store the fabric with the pickling bed in the refrigerator between uses.
Reprinted with permission from Asian Pickles Japan: Recipes for Japanese Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured, and Fermented Tsukemono, by Karen Solomon, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
"[Side dishes] have to be quite dramatic," says Australian author Donna Hay. "They're like the good supporting actors in their roles."