June 30, 2023

Chinese Pickled Sour Mustard Greens 酸菜

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Recently we've been obsessed with what the Chinese call '酸菜', directly translated as 'sour vegetable.'  What is meant by 酸菜 is actually mustard greens which have been pickled or brined. It's simple to make with a basic salt brine but wow is the resultant flavor big!

The result of the pickling/brining is a delicately soured pickled vegetable with a soft yet crunchy texture.  It's addictive I tell you, just addictive!  These Homemade Chinese Pickled Sour Mustard Greens 自製酸菜 can be used to stir fry with pork or chicken, eat plain as a relish, or toss in with fish to make the famous (and my favorite) Sichuan Fish Soup with Pickled Mustard Greens 酸菜魚 (recipe coming up next!)

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The vegetable used is the Chinese mustard green 芥菜, as shown is the photo above.  Look for these large mustard greens as the thick meaty parts of the leaf are essential to the final texture.  Make sure to choose mustard greens that are heavy (fresher) and not bruised.

There are also many other types of mustard greens but a lot of them are too small to properly make a pickle.  You want your pickle to have a good 'bite' to it.

I think that the mustard green is the chosen veg for the Chinese "sour vegetable" because the peppery, pungent taste of the greens really translates into huge flavor once the veg is pickled.  But of course you can experiment brining with other vegetables.  It would be done in the exact same way.  Do let me know if you've found other interesting options.

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Turning the wheels of time back a bit, I had been making a lot of sauerkraut.  I like to have a bit of homemade fermented food for my family to snack on.  Sauerkraut is easy to make and so yummy (I add a bit of caraway seed to it.)

Then it suddenly occurred to me one day that Chinese pickled mustard green 酸菜 is almost exactly like sauerkraut, except for using mustard greens instead of cabbage.  So I applied my method of making sauerkraut to the making of Chinese pickled mustard greens and it worked!

In the photo above you see the mustard green after it has been salted, left to sit and extrude its juices and then squeezed.  Do you see the absolute transformation?  It's always amazing to see the magic that a bit of salt can create.  

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Next the squeezed mustard greens are tucked snuggly into a clean jar and covered with the extruded juices and all the brine.  

Important, nay vital- the brine should completely cover all the the mustard greens.  This is vital to prevent any kind of mold.  If you don't have enough brine you can mix up some more and add it in. 

You can also add a flat plate as a weight to help submerge the greens.  With that all is done and it's only the time to wait!

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The waiting can vary, depending on how sour you like your pickle.  We waited for 12 days.  You see the mustard greens have completely changed to a yellow/dark greenish yellow.

How long should you wait for your pickles?  I would recommend that you start tasting on day 8.  Just make sure not to contaminate the brine.  Use dry clean chopsticks to pick out a bit for a taste and remember to make sure all the greens are below the brine when you are done.

Once the sourness is to your liking you can pack the pickle into a jar and store in the fridge until you need it.  Since it's brined it should last a good long while.  When ready to use cut off as much as you need and slice to the size that you want.

Oh, it was a pleasure to pickle this pickle, that's for sure.  I'm not aware of anything else than the Chinese Pickled Sour Mustard Greens 酸菜 that has a more addictively delicate sour/sweet/salty taste!  And wow-o-wow, it's so AMAZINGLY good in the Sichuan Fish Soup with Pickled Mustard Greens 酸菜魚 (that's why we made the pickle in the first place!)  Stay tuned cuz we're going to show you how to make that showstopper next.

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Homemade Chinese Pickled Sour Mustard Greens Recipe 自製酸菜
Prep time: 10 mins  Pickling time: 8-12 days


    Brine (if needed)
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup cooled down boiled water
  • 4 tsp salt


Sterilize a heat proof pickling jar by rinsing well with boiling water.  We used a ceramic jar with a lid so as to keep the pickling in the dark.  Let dry.

Wash the mustard greens to remove any dirt and let air dry hanging downward until dry.  Add 2 1/2 tsp salt to greens and use fingers to get the salt everywhere.  Let sit for 2 hours.

Clean hands and dry competely.  Wring the mustard greens dry, letting the juice flow back into the bowl.  Wringing creates the proper texture.  Reserve the juices and brine.

Tuck the wrung mustard greens snuggly into the pickling jar.  Pour reserved juices and brine over the mustard greens.  If the greens are not completely covered by the brine mix up some fresh brine.

To make the fresh brine mix the salt with the boiling water and stir until the salt is melted.  Add in the cooled down water and stir to mix.  Let cool to room temperature and add to the pickling jar.

Use a clean and dry spatula or chopsticks to press the mustard greens down.  Important: all the greens should be submerged in the brine!  Add a clean dry plate or something similar to weigh down on top to help submerge the greens completely.

Cover or close the jar and leave in a dark area for 8 to 12 days.  If you use a cover that is air tight you will need to burp the jars once every day or two to release the gas from the pickling. The mustard greens will turn a bright yellow.  

On day 8 start tasting, making sure to use clean dry utensils and to keep the greens submerged.  When the sour/sweet/salty balance is to your liking the pickled mustard green is ready to use.

If not using right away you can store in the fridge for a couple of months.



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