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}

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.

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)

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}
Print Pin Rate
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
Calories: 32kcal
Author: Maggie Zhu

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
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}

Disclosure

Omnivore's Cookbook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
Share:
Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my New York kitchen.

Never Miss a Recipe!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 thoughts on “Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe)

  1. Anita Stapen

    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!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      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.

      Reply