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To prepare for my fermentation class on Saturday, I’ve been experimenting with fermented vegetables in small batches.  We’re making sauerkraut and red and white kimchi, and tasting a range of wonderful ferments, including fermented mustard greens.

Although “Sichuan pickled vegetable” and “preserved mustard greens” (among other names) are widely available in Asian markets, I wanted to make my own using my garden-grown fresh mustard greens.  My greens lack the fleshy stem of the Chinese mustard green called jie cai (芥菜) in Mandarin or gai choy in Cantonese, but they are still tasty and very flexible.  They have a nice slight bitterness and spicy flavor, a great foil for bland noodles, white fish, pork belly or other fatty pork, and soups.

I’ve also used this recipe for fermented green beans for the wonderful Sichuan dish chopped sour beans with pork.  I don’t care for the ginger and other spices when used with green or long beans, so I just use salt and a little sugar.  I successfully froze slightly sour beans in their brine last summer and used them in stirfry dishes this winter.  Much better than the weird spongy flavor of frozen chopped green beans.

Note: I adapted this recipe very loosely from Fuchsia Dunlop’s pickled vegetable recipe, which appears in various forms in her Sichuan and Hunan cookbooks. Dunlop calls for rice wine or vodka in her original recipe.  As this would inhibit the fermentation process, I’ve removed it.

Sichuan Fermented Mustard Greens

  • 2 large bunches mustard greens
  • 1/4 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
  • 3-4 dried chiles (Facing Heaven variety, if you have them)
  • 1/2 star anise
  • 1/3 cinnamon stick
  • a tablespoon or two of live-culture sauerkraut (not processed) or fermented hot pepper juice or whey (optional, to speed fermentation)
  • a half-gallon or larger jar, two ziplock-style bags, and a piece of cheesecloth large enough to cover jar

Bring two cups of water, salt, and sugar to a boil; let salt dissolve and set aside to cool a bit.

Slice mustard greens into three or four big chunks.  Do not chop too finely or they will be harder to handle.

In a sterilized half-gallon sized (or larger) jar, add the chiles, star anise, cinnamon stick, and optional fermentation “starter” of sauerkraut or pepper juice or whey.  (Make sure this juice is from live-culture products with lacto-bacilli to inoculate the mixture or else it won’t work.) Then pack mustard greens into the jar, pressing down tightly.

Pour one cup of brine over the mustard greens, and the rest into a ziplock-style bag.  Place one bag into another bag and close both securely to ensure the brine won’t leak.  Use the bag as a weight in the jar to submerge the greens under the water.  If there isn’t enough brine to cover the greens, pour some of the brine in the bag into the jar.  You can use other methods (like a bowl or jar filled with water or river rock) as a weight, as well.

Cover jar with cheesecloth and let sit at room temperature for 3-7 days, testing daily after three days for your desired levels of sourness.  Skim any white film off the top of the water and remove green bits that have molded on top.

For storage, cover the jar with an airtight lid and refrigerate.  The quality will improve after another week or so in refrigeration, but will start to deteriorate after a month.

Before serving, chop into small pieces.  Great in soups, pork stir-fries, dumplings, fried rice, noodles, etc.

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