Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe)

5 from 1 vote
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Make crunchy Chinese pickled cabbage with this quick pickle recipe. It is so easy to prepare, and the result is a well-balanced crisp sweet and sour pickle just like the appetizer you’d get at a Chinese restaurant. {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

Sichuan pickled cabbage

Pickled cabbage, known in Chinese as pào cài (泡菜), is such a humble yet popular dish that decorates tabletops all over China. Traditionally enjoyed as a tangy, crisp condiment for simpler foods such as millet, rice porridge, and steamed buns in home cooked meals, it’s also served in restaurants as an appetizer to snack on and clean your palate while waiting for the main dishes to arrive. Pickled cabbage is such an elemental part of Chinese cuisine that it would almost be a crime not to share a recipe for it!

When winter comes to the northern parts of China, the harsh cold sets in and it becomes difficult to grow or harvest many kinds of leafy vegetables. Luckily, the northerners have a thousand-year-old solution. Just before the freezing weather, large trucks are loaded up with cabbage, ready to be taken for pickling. This means that everybody will have veggie nutrients to get them through the season. No wonder pickling is such an important concept in Chinese gastronomic culture!

The great thing about this quick pickle recipe is, once you prepare the veggies and the pickling liquid, it’s ready to eat in just three days. After that, you can just leave it for weeks and take small serving amounts whenever needed. Not only does it taste wonderful, but the aesthetic of the jar itself also adds a beautiful burst of color to your kitchen.

Sichuan pickled cabbage close-up

Cooking notes

1. Quick pickle

To simplify things and make this dish more accessible, I want to show you how you can make your own Chinese pickled cabbage at home, without needing huge amounts of time (or cabbage!).

The ingredients are really basic, probably the type of thing you already have in your pantry. All you need to do is:

  • Combine the ingredients for the pickling liquid in a small pot and simmer. It will dissolve the sugar and release the spiciness from the chili pepper.
  • Rub the cabbage with salt and let it sit for 30 minutes, then squeeze out excess water. It will draw the water out of the cabbage and give it a crunchy texture.
  • Combine the pickling juice and cabbage.

That’s it!

I added some carrots to the cabbage to add color, just like at a Chinese restaurant. But you can make the pickles with or without the carrots.

Chinese pickled cabbage cooking step-by-step

2. Spice adjustment

This recipe yields a Sichuan-style pickle that is balanced with sour and sweet taste without being overwhelmingly spicy. You can jazz it up a little with extra spice from the red chilis and Sichuan peppercorns if you like.

I used 4 red chili peppers in this recipe because these chilis are quite mild. If you are using spicy ones like Thai bird’s eye or habanero, you probably only need one. For medium-spicy peppers like jalapenos, you can use one or two.

This recipe contains Sichuan peppercorns to give the pickle a nice fragrance, but it doesn’t add a lot of numbing taste. You can add 1 to 2 teaspoons more if you want to actually taste the peppercorns.

3. For longer storage

This is a quick pickle recipe that will be ready in three days (you can start eating it after pickling overnight, but the flavor will come through on day three and it will taste much better). I’ve stored these pickled in the fridge for two weeks without any problems.

However, if you prefer canning these pickles and storing them for even longer, you should follow the standard canning process to sanitize and seal the jars.

These pickles are great to have in your fridge, so when you whip up a super simple dinner such as a quick fried rice or noodle soup, you can add some veggies to your meal. I hope you enjoy!

Sichuan pickled cabbage in a container

More delicious veggie (vegan) recipes

Chinese pickled cabbage

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

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Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) | Make crunchy Chinese pickled cabbage with this quick pickle recipe. It is so easy to prepare, and the result is a well-balanced crisp sweet and sour pickle just like the appetizer you’d get at a Chinese restaurant. {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe)

5 from 1 vote
Make crunchy Chinese pickled cabbage with this quick pickle recipe. It is so easy to prepare, and the result is a well-balanced crisp sweet and sour pickle just like the appetizer you’d get at a Chinese restaurant. {Vegan, Gluten-Free}
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: cold dish, restaurant-style
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Pickling & resting time: 3 days
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients

Pickling mix

  • 1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves garlic , smashed
  • 4 red chili peppers more if desired (Optional)
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (Optional)

Prep

  • 1 lbs (450 g) cabbage (about half of a small head of cabbage)
  • 1 large carrot , peeled
  • 2 tablespoons salt

Instructions

  • Combine the rice vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and chili peppers in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until it reaches a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Use a clean spoon to taste the pickling liquid to see if it has the desired spice level. You can simmer it for a bit longer if you want the liquid to taste spicier. Once done, set aside and allow to cool.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the veggies. Cut out the cabbage core and discard it. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Cut the carrot into 1/4” (1/2 cm) thick half-moon shaped slices.
  • Combine the cabbage, carrots, and 2 tablespoons of salt in a big bowl. Toss it with your hands so the veggies are coated with salt. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, up to 1 hour (no more than an hour).
  • Drain and discard the salted water released by the veggies. Rinse the veggies with tap water twice. Drain thoroughly, and squeeze out the excess water from the veggies. Transfer them into a large container (or a jar).
  • Add the crushed garlic and Sichuan peppercorns (if using) into the same container.
  • Add the cooled pickling liquid. Press the veggies so they are submerged in the liquid. It is fine if a small fraction of the veggies are poking out from the liquid (because the veggies will shrink over time and become submerged). Seal the container and allow to pickle for 3 days in the fridge.
  • The pickles will start to taste good after 1 day, but the sourness will come through at day 3. Make sure to use clean chopsticks (or flatware) to pick out the pickles every time you serve them. They will stay good in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 32kcal, Carbohydrates: 7.6g, Protein: 0.9g, Fat: 0.1g, Sodium: 91mg, Potassium: 134mg, Fiber: 1.7g, Sugar: 5.3g, Calcium: 28mg
Did You Make This Recipe?Don't forget the last step! Tag me @OmnivoresCookbook and #OmnivoresCookbook on Instagram!
Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) | Make crunchy Chinese pickled cabbage with this quick pickle recipe. It is so easy to prepare, and the result is a well-balanced crisp sweet and sour pickle just like the appetizer you’d get at a Chinese restaurant. {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Anita Stapen says:

    Two questions:
    1. I would like to make these pickles, but with very mild spiciness. What’s the best way to achieve a *very* mild spice?
    2. Am I correct that the veggies and pickling liquid are left out on the counter for 3 days, not in the refrigerator?

    Thanks!

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Anita, to make a mild spiciness, I would start with a mild pepper, like these long red peppers I used in the recipe (I used four, and the pickles are still not too spicy after 2 weeks. You should use less, maybe 2, for a very mild spice level). If your peppers are spicy, the other thing you can do is to add them to the pickling liquid after you dissolve the sugar (step 1), then boil them for a very short time, taste the liquid to make sure it’s the spicy level you want, and then remove the peppers (and not adding them to the pickling container).
      Re your 2nd question, you need to keep the pickles in the fridge for 3 days. Sorry my recipe wasn’t clear. Just updated it.

  2. Tom Maynard says:

    Do let these pickle at room temperature, or in the fridge?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Tom, I keep the pickles in the fridge. I just updated the recipe so it’s more clear. Happy cooking!

  3. Phil Kennedy says:

    Hi Maggie,

    Your pickled cabbage looks exactly like what I used to eat in one of my favorite Sichuan restaurants in Shanghai.

    I can’t figure out what the small whitish veggies are in the black bowl in the first photo & I see it in a few other photos. Looks like a white mushroom or a large garlic clove?

    My wife and I love your recipes. I have made quite a few already and have saved dozens more. My wife is Shanghaiese but likes most other Chinese cuisines.

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Phil, thanks for your kind words! The small white veggie in the black bowl is a giant clove of garlic 🙂

  4. VZ says:

    Thanks for the recipe! Curious: could you ferment this, a la sauerkraut?

    • Maggie says:

      I think you can!

  5. ashley says:

    This recipe sounds incredible! I’ve been wanting to explore the different options when it comes to pickling. I can’t wait to try. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Sarah Skelton says:

    Hi I am very excited about this recipe but I am unable to eat garlic. Would it be ok to leave it out?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Sarah, I think it’s OK to leave out the garlic but I would definitely make sure to use the Sichuan peppercorns (listed as optional but I highly recommend it).

  7. Peter says:

    Hello Maggie,
    Thanks for sharing the recipe. It came out very sour for some reason. I followed the recipe as per the instructions. Is the rice vinegar quantity correct? I used kikkoman rice vinegar. Thank you

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Peter, I’m sorry to hear the pickle didn’t turn out like you hoped.
      I used a rice vinegar from a different brand, but it shouldn’t affect the flavor so much.
      May I ask what type of sugar you used?
      I did notice that certain type of sugar, for example coconut sugar, taste less sweet when you use the same amount, which might lead to a very sour taste.

      • Peter says:

        Thank you for getting back to me. I used Domino white sugar. Would definitely try again but with lower quality of the vinegar.

        We just got similar pickled cabbage pickle from a local sichuan restaurant and that’s the taste I am trying to recreate.

        What I made went really well with spicy boiled fish that we got from the restaurant.

        Love all your recipes.. thank you

  8. GayLynne says:

    Could this be canned for longer storage if so how

  9. Elizabeth says:

    5 stars
    I made this as part of my Lunar New Year spread this year. It was excellent. Flavor was a bit on the sweet side which I loved. Thank you!

  10. Peggy says:

    Again delicious. I’m 3 for 3. Tasty accompaniment to anything. Easy to make.

  11. Chris Ho says:

    I love this recipe👏👏 Do you think I can add some pineapples too?

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      I think you definitely can 🙂

  12. Jessinta says:

    I would like to use other vegetables than cabbage; ie: leafy vegetables is it possible?

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      I think you probably can if using leafy greens that have a tough texture, for example, collard greens and kale. If the greens are too soft (like spinach or chard), the method might not work because the salt will cause the leaves to wither too much and the veggies will be quite salty.

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