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Exploring the Delightful World of Chinese Preserved Vegetables: A Tasty and Nutritious Addition to Your Meal

Preserved vegetables are a common ingredient in Chinese cooking that can bring a rich and intricate flavour to your dishes. They are created through a process of fermentation and preservation, using a blend of salt, sugar, and spices. The outcome is a delicious and healthy element that can enhance the taste of different recipes.

A steaming pot of preserved vegetables simmers on a stove, filling the air with rich aromas of soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. The vegetables glisten with a glossy sheen, ready to be served as a flavorful side dish

To prepare preserved vegetables, you will need to start with fresh produce such as kale, mustard greens, or radish greens. These vegetables are then washed and dried thoroughly before being mixed with salt and other seasonings. The mixture is then packed tightly into a container and left to ferment for several days or weeks.

Once the preserved vegetables are ready, they can be used in a variety of ways. They can be added to stir-fries, soups, and stews, or used as a topping for rice and noodle dishes. They can also be combined with seafood such as shrimp or squid to create a delicious and nutritious meal.

Key Takeaways

  • Preserved vegetables are made by fermenting fresh produce in a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices.
  • These vegetables can be used in a variety of ways, including in stir-fries, soups, and stews.
  • Preserved vegetables can be combined with seafood to create a delicious and nutritious meal.

The Basics of Preserved Vegetables

A variety of preserved vegetables, including cabbage, radish, and mustard greens, are neatly arranged in glass jars, showcasing their vibrant colors and textures

Preserved vegetables are a staple in Chinese cuisine, and they are a great way to add flavour and texture to your dishes. Preserved vegetables are made by fermenting fresh vegetables with salt, water and sugar. The process of fermentation breaks down the natural sugars in the vegetables, creating a sour and tangy flavour.

Understanding Fermentation

Fermentation is a natural process that occurs when bacteria and yeast break down sugars in the absence of oxygen. When vegetables are fermented, the natural sugars in the vegetables are converted into lactic acid, which gives the vegetables a tangy flavour. Fermentation also helps to preserve the vegetables, making them last longer.

Key Ingredients for Preservation

The key ingredients for preserving vegetables are salt, water and sugar. Sea salt is often used in Chinese recipes, as it has a milder flavour than regular salt. The salt helps to draw the moisture out of the vegetables, creating an environment that is inhospitable to harmful bacteria. Sugar is added to balance out the sourness of the fermented vegetables.

When preserving vegetables, it is important to use clean and fresh ingredients. Any dirt or bacteria on the vegetables can contaminate the fermentation process and spoil the vegetables. It is also important to store the vegetables in a cool, dark place, such as a fridge, to slow down the fermentation process and prevent spoilage.

If you want to add some seafood to your preserved vegetable recipe, you can try using shrimp or scallops. These seafood options complement the tangy and sour flavour of the preserved vegetables. Simply add the shrimp or scallops to the dish during the cooking process, and let them cook until they are tender and flavourful.

Preparation Techniques

Various vegetables being washed, sliced, and pickled in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and spices for a traditional Chinese preserved vegetable recipe

Cleaning and Cutting Vegetables

Before starting the process of preserving vegetables, it is important to clean them thoroughly. Rinse the vegetables under cold running water to remove any dirt or debris. Then, soak them in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes to loosen any remaining dirt. After that, drain the water and pat the vegetables dry with a clean towel.

Next, you need to cut the vegetables into small pieces for easy preservation. You can cut them into thin strips, small cubes or any other shape you prefer. It is important to ensure that all the pieces are of the same size to ensure even preservation.

The Brining Process

The brining process is the most important step in preserving vegetables. To make the brine, you will need a mixture of salt, sugar, ginger, garlic, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns. The proportion of salt and sugar depends on the amount of vegetables you are preserving. As a general rule, you should use 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar for every 500g of vegetables.

To start the brining process, mix the salt, sugar and spices in a large bowl. Add the vegetables to the bowl and mix well to ensure that all the pieces are coated with the brine. Then, transfer the vegetables and the brine mixture to a clean jar. Make sure that the jar is tightly sealed to prevent any air from entering.

Leave the jar at room temperature for 24 hours. After that, transfer the jar to the refrigerator and leave it for another 48 hours. During this time, the brine will penetrate the vegetables and preserve them. After 48 hours, the preserved vegetables are ready to be eaten.

Seafood can be a great addition to this recipe. You can add shrimp, squid or any other seafood of your choice to the preserved vegetables. Simply add the seafood to the jar along with the vegetables and brine mixture. Make sure that the seafood is fully cooked before eating.

Cooking with Preserved Vegetables

A wok sizzles with preserved vegetables, garlic, and ginger. Steam rises as the ingredients are tossed and stir-fried in a traditional Chinese recipe

Preserved vegetables are a staple in Chinese cooking and are often used to add a tangy and salty flavour to dishes. They are made by fermenting vegetables in salt, and sometimes other ingredients like chilli, garlic or ginger are added to the mix.

Stir-Frying Fundamentals

When stir-frying with preserved vegetables, it's important to note that they are already salty, so you should use them sparingly. Start by heating up your wok over high heat and adding a small amount of cooking oil. Once the oil is hot, add your aromatics like garlic and ginger and stir-fry for a few seconds until fragrant. Then, add your meat or seafood and stir-fry until cooked through. Next, add your preserved vegetables and stir-fry for a minute or two. Finish off with a splash of soy sauce, sesame oil or Shaoxing wine for added flavour.

Steaming and Braising

Preserved vegetables are also great for steaming or braising. For steaming, mix minced pork with soaked and chopped preserved vegetables, cornstarch and seasoning. Shape the mixture into patties and steam for 10-15 minutes. For braising, start by heating up your wok and adding a small amount of oil. Once the oil is hot, add your aromatics and stir-fry for a few seconds. Then, add your meat or seafood and stir-fry until browned. Next, add your preserved vegetables, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine and enough water or chicken stock to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the meat is tender.

When using seafood with preserved vegetables, try using prawns or squid. The tangy flavour of the preserved vegetables pairs well with the sweetness of the seafood. For example, you could stir-fry prawns with garlic, ginger and a small amount of preserved vegetables, or braise squid with preserved vegetables and Shaoxing wine.

Remember to use light soy sauce when stir-frying and dark soy sauce when braising for the best flavour. Cornstarch can also be used to thicken sauces, while sesame oil can be used to add a nutty flavour to dishes. With these tips, you'll be able to incorporate preserved vegetables into your Chinese cooking repertoire with ease.

Signature Preserved Vegetable Dishes

A table set with various preserved vegetable dishes, including pickled radish and mustard greens, arranged in traditional Chinese ceramic bowls

Preserved vegetables are a staple ingredient in many Chinese dishes, adding depth of flavour and texture to a range of recipes. Here are two signature preserved vegetable dishes that you can try at home:

Mei Cai Kou Rou

Mei Cai Kou Rou is a classic pork dish from Guangdong that is traditionally made with preserved mustard greens (mei cai) and pork belly. The pork belly is first braised in a fragrant mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and scallions, then steamed with the preserved vegetables. The result is a tender, succulent pork dish with a rich umami flavour.

If you're looking to make this dish vegan, you can substitute the pork belly with green beans or cucumbers, and use vegan oyster sauce instead of the traditional variety. You can also add minced pork or seafood to the dish for added protein and flavour.

Sichuan Pickled Vegetables

Sichuan pickled vegetables are a tangy and spicy condiment that is commonly served with Sichuanese cuisine. The most popular type of preserved vegetable used in this dish is Sui Mi Ya Cai, which is made from pickled cardamine sprouts. The preserved vegetables are typically paired with ground pork or minced meat, along with a variety of spices and seasonings.

To make this dish, you can use Sichuan pickles with seafood such as shrimp or crab. The tangy and spicy flavour of the pickles pairs well with the sweetness of the seafood, creating a delicious and unique flavour combination.

Whether you're a fan of meat or prefer vegan options, preserved vegetables can add a unique flavour and texture to a range of dishes. Try incorporating them into your cooking to add a new twist to your favourite recipes.

Serving and Storage

A kitchen counter with jars of preserved vegetables, a cutting board with a knife, and a recipe book open to a Chinese recipe for serving and storage

Plating and Garnishing

When it comes to presenting your preserved vegetables dish, you can be creative with how you plate and garnish it. You can serve it as a side dish or as a main course with some steamed rice. For a more authentic presentation, you can use a Chinese serving plate.

To add some extra flavor and fragrance to your dish, you can sprinkle some white pepper or fragrant herbs on top. You can also garnish with some steamed pork patty, cloves, or eggs.

Storing Leftovers

Preserved vegetables can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a few months. If you have any leftovers, you can simply reheat them in the microwave or on the stove. Be sure to add some water or broth to prevent the dish from becoming too dry.

If you want to add some seafood to your preserved vegetables dish, you can use prawns, squid, or fish fillets. Simply cook them separately and add them to the dish before serving. Seafood can add some extra flavour and nutrition to your dish.

Overall, preserved vegetables are a comforting and delicious addition to any Chinese meal. With a little bit of creativity and experimentation, you can create your own unique preserved vegetables recipe that will impress your guests.

Frequently Asked Questions

A glass jar filled with colorful preserved vegetables, surrounded by traditional Chinese cooking ingredients and utensils

How do you make a Chinese preserved vegetable dish with rice?

To make a Chinese preserved vegetable dish with rice, you can use a variety of preserved vegetables such as zha cai, suan cai, or mei cai. First, cook the rice according to your preference. In a separate pan, stir-fry the preserved vegetables with garlic, ginger, and your choice of protein such as chicken, beef, or seafood. Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, and a pinch of sugar for flavor. Once the vegetables and protein are cooked through, serve over the cooked rice.

What's the best way to cook with preserved mustard greens in Chinese cuisine?

Preserved mustard greens are a staple in Chinese cuisine and can be used in a variety of dishes. One popular way to cook with them is to stir-fry them with garlic, ginger, and your choice of protein such as pork or shrimp. You can also use them in soups or stews for added flavor. When using preserved mustard greens, be sure to rinse them thoroughly to remove excess salt.

Can you give me a recipe for a Chinese chicken dish with preserved vegetables?

Sure! Here's a recipe for Chinese chicken with preserved vegetables:


  • 1 lb chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup preserved vegetables (such as zha cai or suan cai)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water


  1. In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, cornstarch, and water. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a wok or large pan over high heat. Add chicken and stir-fry until browned and cooked through.
  3. Add preserved vegetables to the pan and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Pour the sauce mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Stir-fry for an additional 1-2 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  5. Serve hot with rice.

What are some creative uses for pickled mustard greens in cooking?

Pickled mustard greens can add a tangy and salty flavor to dishes. They can be used in stir-fries, soups, stews, and even salads. You can also chop them up and mix them into rice dishes or use them as a topping for sandwiches or burgers.

Are there any health benefits to eating Chinese preserved vegetables?

Preserved vegetables are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are also low in calories and fat. However, they can be high in sodium, so it's important to consume them in moderation.

What can I use as a substitute for Sichuan preserved veggies in a recipe?

If you can't find Sichuan preserved veggies, you can use other preserved vegetables such as zha cai or suan cai. You can also use pickled vegetables such as pickled radish or pickled ginger. If you want to add a spicy kick to your dish, you can add some chili oil or Sichuan peppercorns. For seafood dishes, you can use preserved seafood such as salted fish or dried shrimp.