In a pickle?

From M., 12 May 2010, pickles – a world of flavor?

Q: Hi Wendy,

Our mutual friend Ashley suggested I ask you this question. While eating a Korean tofu kimchi burrito today, I was thinking about how much I love kimchi and also sauerkraut. It made me wonder if there were other pickled/fermented cabbage products out there that I was missing out on. So are there? Ashley and another friend both mentioned giardienera (sp), so I’ll have to try that. What else?

Thanks for your help!

A: Hi and thanks for your question. I love pickles as well, so I’m excited to write about the many ways to pickle vegetables.

You mentioned kimchi and sauerkraut. Both are totally easy to make. In fact, if you’ll check out this post, you can learn to make your own cucumber kimchi, which is pretty similar to the method for making cabbage kimchi, if you’re interested in trying either one. You also can learn how to recycle leftover cabbage kimchi as fried rice (kimchi bokumbap), which is one of my favorite leftovers of all time. Pickled cabbage is popular elsewhere in Asia as well. In Taiwan, cabbage is salted and dressed with vinegar, ginger, and chile, for a milder, sweeter pickle than the more pungent Korean dish. I’ve provided a recipe below, based on a dish my aunt prepared for dinner during our last visit to Taipei.

Koreans will pickle and ferment a wide variety of vegetables, so if you’re interested in tart and pungent flavors, I highly recommend a few visits to a Korean restaurant, where you should pay special attention to the banchan, or accompaniments. A wide variety of kimchi may be served among the banchan – scallion, garlic, radish, and cucumber as well as the ubiquitous cabbage. Try a variety and see what you like the most. I like the cucumber and radish the best, but I also think the scallion tastes amazing with grilled meats.

You also asked about giardiniera, an Italian (and Italian-American) relish. My husband’s mom is half-Italian, and on holidays we used to drive up to northern New Jersey for a giant family meal. Regardless of the occasion, Nat’s Aunt Linda always would have set out a plate of crisp-tender vegetables, tart and spicy, as a relish. The giardiniera usually included cauliflower, celery, carrots, and sometimes fennel, and was a perfect counterpart to briny olives and savory cured meat products. In Chicago – where perhaps you are? – it’s more likely to be found chopped up, sometimes with olives, and spooned onto an Italian beef sandwich.

The giardiniera never included cabbage, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try it if you make your own. There are two kinds – one a slightly oily marinated assortment of vegetables more common in Chicago, and the other a straight vinegar pickle more common on Italian-American relish trays.

Read on to the second question I received today, about Bloody Marys. It also asks about pickles and if you’re interested in trying pickled green beans, you should give these a spin. They’re hot and spicy, with dill, garlic, and crushed red peppers. If you like them, let me know. This summer, maybe we can pickle up some okra, and some asparagus, and some red onions…

Taiwanese pickled cabbage

This pickled cabbage is a popular accompaniment to meals in Taiwan. It’s mild and sweet, and is similar to Vietnamese pickled cabbage. You can make a batch and keep it for up to a week.

1/2 head of napa cabbage, cut into thick shreds (about 1/2″ to 1″ thick)
1/4 c kosher salt or more
1/2 c rice wine vinegar
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 inch chunk of ginger, peeled and julienned (sliced thinly and then sliced thinly again about 1/16″)
2-3 dried red chiles
Optional: 1 tsp dried shrimp
2 tbsp peanut oil or vegetable oil

Toss the cabbage and the salt in a large nonreactive bowl. Leave overnight (at least four hours if you’re in a hurry). Drain the liquid and rinse well in a colander. Squeeze out all the water from the cabbage and transfer to a bowl.

Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small pot; bring to a simmer and dissolve the sugar.

Place a saute pan or wok over medium high heat and, when hot, add the oil. Add the hot red chiles and saute until fragrant. Add the shrimp (if using) and the ginger; saute for a minute more until fragrant. Pour into the seasoned vinegar and then pour all over the cabbage, tossing well. Serve within a few hours or store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.


This recipe makes a typical vinegar-pickled giardiniera. It’s not oily, but if you like your giardiniera with a sheen of oil, add 2 tbsp of olive oil for every cup of water to the top of the jars just before sealing and processing. You’ll find recipes on line featuring equal volumes of oil and water (or oil and vinegar) but those are ridiculously greasy, in my opinion.

If you don’t care to put these up on the pantry shelf, you can dispense with the processing step. Just be sure to keep them in the refrigerator at all times. Let them pickle for about a week before eating, and then eat them within a few weeks.

A word about quantity: unlike certain people (e.g., my husband’s relatives in New Jersey), I definitely can get enough giardiniera. It’s great and all, but it’s not like dill pickled cucumbers, or pickled green beans or okra to me. I don’t need to eat a lot of this and I like it best chopped up for sandwiches. So this recipe makes a fairly small quantity of giardiniera. If you happen to love it, you can always make more by increasing the proportions.

1/4 lb each carrots, celery, cauliflower florets, and fennel, or substitute other vegetables as you like
1 1/2 c distilled white vinegar
1 c water
3 tbsp (45 g) kosher salt
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
optional: 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes for a spicy giardiniera
optional: olive oil

If producing for the pantry, sterilize two or three pint jars with lids.

Prepare the vegetables as follows: peel and slice the carrots into sticks of equal length about 1/2″ wide. Peel the strings off the celery and slice into similarly sized sticks. Slice the fennel into similarly sized sticks. Separate the cauliflower into florets. Divide between/among the jars.

Bring all the other ingredients to a boil. Ladle the hot liquid into the jars, including the spices, until full. Add 2 tbsp oil, if using. Seal tightly.

If you intend to process for the pantry, process in boiling water (covered with at least an inch of water) for about 10 minutes. Be sure the lid is secure. If you do not, then be sure to store the cooled product in the refrigerator.

2 thoughts on “In a pickle?

  1. Pingback: A peck of pickles. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Pingback: Not all pickled cucumbers are created equal « Amelia's Accidents and Adventures in Taiwan

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