Suan Cai - The Chinese Cousin of Saurkraut
RECIPE CREATED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH feather & hill farm x their csa program
Eating on the 50th parallel
I’ve observed, over the years, that when you hold your finger to the globe and trace along the parallels, traditional cuisines that are intersected by the line have a tendency to overlap in flavor and function. This is a generalization of course because each region of each country has its own soil, air & habits which build up to a distinctive terroir and therefore distinct flavors. However, generally speakings some trends emerge when you start globe-trotting in straight lines.
The cabbage kitchen, if I can call it that, follows the 50th-ish parallel and it’s slightly more northern and southern friends. It intersects places like Russia, Germany, Poland, Ukraine & the UK. It passes through Canada (not too far from Edmonton actually) and it also continues into Northern China & Mongolia.
Super Quick Pickle
All of these places have signature cabbage dishes. Saukraut, a fermented cabbage dish, is a popular one that comes to mind with regional variations including carrot, apple or cranberries (the cran help preserve it!). Keep going around the globe and you’ll find suan cai, saurkraut’s Chinese cousin which is made in the north of China and is equally delicious and often similarly served with dumplings, fried or added to a stew.
The general idea of Lacto fermenting cabbage goes a little something like this. The cabbage is shredded, salted and then submerged in its own juices. This first part kills off & slows the propagation of harmful bacteria. In the second stage, when souring begins to occur, Lactobacillus take over the environment and begin converting the sugars present into lactic acid which stabilizes the mixture and extends the shelf life of the products many fold.
This method of preservation allows you to benefit from the abundant nutrient of produce from the peak of the summer season even in the depth of winter months!
MAKES 2 PORTIONS | 4 SIDES
1 Chinese Napa cabbage
Salt, for rubbing
1 t Sichuan pepper
1 T sea salt per 1 litre glass jar
Boiled water, cooled, as needed
You will also need:
500 ml wide mouth mason jar**
**I used a 1L but it was only half filled after I was done pressing down so I will move it over to a 500ml jar
Prep 15 Mins
Separate the leaves and wash thoroughly, set aside any blemished leaves then lay flat on clean tea towels
Once dry & slightly wilted (about 12 hours later) prepare the glass jars by sterilizing them in boiling water, then set aside to cool and drain
Chop the cabbage into large pieces (or shred if you want a more saurkraut-like finish) and transfer the cabbage leaves to a large bowl, rub each one down with salt and massage them until water starts to emerge
At the bottom of your jar, add Sichuan pepper & salt.
Place the cabbage into your sterilized wide mouth mason jar, pressing down as much as possible each time you add some.
Top up with cooled off boiling water ensuring that all of the cabbage is submerged (it’s important that it’s cooled as boiling water will kill off the beneficial bacteria)
Cover the jar & set in a spot out of direct sunlight for about 10 days until the water has changed color and the ferment tastes as sour as you like it. (I begin to taste it around day 7, as each ferment has it’s own schedule & weather changed the duration of the ferment each time)
Once it’s to your liking, place in the fridge & enjoy!