Pickled Chinese Cabbage, A Daily Treat To Keep You Going All Winter

Pickled Chinese cabbage, a daily treat to keep you going all winterCooking expert Yoshiharu Doi advocates a simple style of eating: a bowl of rice, miso soup with a heap of ingredients, plus pickled vegetables such as Chinese cabbage.
“At home, when we serve rice balls, miso soup and pickled vegetables to our guests, they eat lots of them, commenting how tasty they are,” he says happily.

Doi likes to make “nuka-zuke” (fermented vegetables in rice bran) of eggplants and cucumbers during the summer and to pickle Chinese cabbage in winter. He pickles a set of two Chinese cabbages 20 times each winter. Although many people choose to buy ready-pickled vegetables nowadays, “It’s quite fun to pickle by yourself!” Doi says.

Chinese cabbage has come into season. Choose heavy ones with green outer leaves and leaves that are wound tight. Quartering the vegetable and letting the pieces dry in the shade for half a day. This process will make them taste sweeter when they are pickled.

One of the keys to pickling is using the correct amount of salt. When making “sokuseki-zuke” (fast pickle) that is eaten after a short preparation time, the weight of salt should be about 2 percent that of the vegetable.

But it should be about 4 percent when making pickled Chinese cabbage. Since the best time to enjoy it is between two to four weeks after the main pickling is carried out, a generous amount of salt is used to prevent the germs from growing and turning the pickle moldy. Natural rather than refined salt is recommended.

Another factor is the weight used to press the vegetable. In the preparatory pickling stage, a weight that is twice as heavy as the Chinese cabbage should be used. Once the water rises, the water should be discarded.

In the main pickling stage, weight that is half as heavy as the one used in the previous stage should be used. The continued use of a heavy weight will push out too much water and make the pickle stringy. If the weight is too light, the cabbage will retain excessive water and will not turn out crisp.

“Fermented food like the Chinese cabbage pickle is ‘alive.’ The taste can change completely by a slight change in the temperature and how it is handled. The weather can affect the process as well. It’s like communicating with nature. You don’t get tired of it even if you eat it every day.” Doi says he treasures such facets of daily life.

Three years ago, “washoku” (traditional Japanese cuisine) was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

“That means home cooking in Japan has been recognized. We must commend all the grandmas who have continued to cook meals for the family,” Doi says.


Amount easy to make:

2 heads of Chinese cabbage (4 kilograms)

160 grams salt (4 percent of the weight of Chinese cabbage)

6 to 7 pieces of 10 cm-square dried kelp (50 grams)

6 to 7 pods red chili


Preparatory pickling: Remove two or three outer leaves. Rinse Chinese cabbage. Put a cross at the end and tear it into four pieces.

Let the pieces dry in the shade for half a day. Dry the removed outer leaves as well.

Wash the “tsuke-daru” (bucket-like pickling container) thoroughly and dry. Sprinkle a handful of salt, lay Chinese cabbage with no space between, sprinkle salt, then lay pieces. Repeat and cover with outer leaves.

Place lid for pressing and then weight (8 kilograms) that is twice the weight of Chinese cabbage.

Water will rise after one or two days. If water does not rise, turn the layers upside down and wait a while.

Main pickling: Discard water that has risen. Drain Chinese cabbage and squeeze water out lightly.

Lay pickled Chinese cabbage in container, add dried kelp and red chili and press with weight (4 kg) that is half as heavy. Place the container in a dark, cool place. If water keeps rising, remove weight.

Enjoy the pickle at preferred timing. Although you may start eating it after about a week, the optimum time is after two to four weeks.