As per Wikipedia (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suan_cai) , “Suan cai 酸菜(also called suan tsai and Chinese sauerkraut; literally “sour vegetable”) is a traditional Chinese pickled Chinese cabbage, used for a variety of purposes. Suan cai is a unique form of pao cai, due to the ingredients used and the method of production. Two distinct types of suan cai are found in China:
- Northern China has used Napa cabbage (Chinese: 大白菜; pinyin: dà bái cài) as the traditional vegetable of choice.
- Southern China uses the thick stalk varieties of Chinese mustard (Chinese: 芥菜; pinyin: jìe cai; Jyutping: syun1 coi3) variety to make suan cai. “
I do not think there is a need to introduce more about this traditional Chinese preserved vegetable. It is a common preserved vegetable that accompanied many of us during our growing up process. It was sour and there is another variant which is salted vegetable due to different growing up process.
It is such a sense of accomplishment and joy when you opened the urn, cooked and first tasted your homemade sour vegetable. Sorry of not being humble, i am impressed with my rather successful batch of these sour vegetable. I never ever thought that I can do this at home and I never ever thought that it is such a simple process..
My nephew’s wife bought an urn from Taobao China, she did not use it and decide to give it to me.. I have already used in the preparation of sour long bean which is a success (Recipe: Sichuan Recipes: Preserved Long Beans (酸豆角 aka 酸豇豆）)
After finished preserving the long bean, i used the urn to make some salted eggs (Recipe: Homemade Salted Eggs (家居咸蛋）). Then I thought it is time to try to prepare sour vegetables at home.
Okay, don’t worry that if you do not have any urn. You can always use sterilized glass container such as coffee tin or even plastic container (i used for salted eggs before). Traditional households used earth urn which is very difficult to get nowadays. What you need is a container that has no exposure to fresh air as the good bacteria that causes the fermentation (乳酸杆菌 , lactobacillus) hates oxygen and another bacteria that causes things turn mouldy is the one that likes oxygen. Therefore, if you have exposed both types of bacteria to the air, the mouldy bacteria will take over and give you rotten vegetables instead. As such, it is imperative that you need an air tight container.. I heard Ikea has such big glass container but I have never go there and search for the container.
I am very pleased with this attempt though not 100% perfect. It is not sour enough and I convinced myself that not sour enough is not a big issue, we can always add in vinegar during our cooking. The sourness is due to the chemical reaction of the lactobacillus and after reading up, just like yoghurt it is the temperature of fermentation that determines the degree of tanginess. Possibly the place i put my container is not warm enough ..
In fact, lack of tanginess can be an advantage since we can adjust the tanginess during cooking. Overly sour can be a problem and is irreversible no matter how you soak the vegetable in water. Most people like the sour vegetable is its unique aroma and texture and this attempt, it has achieved this unique aroma of sour vegetable and the vegetables are very crunchy.. Improperly prepared “preserved” vegetables will rot and has a foul smell.
For that night, I cooked the vegetable with minced meat as shared in the recipe: Sour Vegetable Minced Meat (酸菜炒肉燥） Kids loved them as it is not overly tangy despite the fact that I have added one tablespoon of white vinegar during the stir frying process.
WHAT IS REQUIRED
- Some green mustard vegetables
- Some salt
- Some water used for cleaning rice grains
- A sterilized glass container
* There is no exact quantity for this recipe as all the entire recipe is full of variations. The quantity will depend on size of your container and vegetable quantity.
STEPS OF PREPARATION
- Get ready a STERILIZED glass container. You can sterilize the container by pouring some hot water or use 50% alcohol content cooking wine. Wipe the container and use a clean towel to wipe dry the container. The container must be totally dry and oil less before the next step.
- Wash the mustard green cleaned of dirt. Let it sun dry or air dry for at least 1/2 a day to one day until slightly wilted.
- Sprinkle with a bit of salt onto the vegetable. Rub evenly but please ensure that it should not be too much as too much salt will inhibit the fermentation process. As a guideline, for one medium size mustard green like in the picture above will require about 1/2 teaspoon of salt .
- Stuff the vegetable into the glass container. Press the vegetables down hard and pour the rice waters until it covers the vegetables. Rice waters are water used for washing rice grains. If the vegetables floated upward, use something heavy like a clean stone or porcelain bowl to put on top of the vegetables.
- Seal the container (close the lid) and place in the warm area without any direct sunlight exposure . For preserved vegetable urn, you will need to put the cover and pour water surrounding the cover and ensure that the air inside the container has not direct contact with the air outside.
- Let the vegetables ferment for at least a week or until the vegetables turn golden yellow. Use a clean spoon every time you wish to take out the vegetables. The preserving liquid can be used for the next batch of sour vegetable and the longer it is kept, the more tangy it will be.
If you are concerned about the dirtiness of preserved food sold in the market, you can always prepare this at home. Overseas readers who may not be able to get these vegetables at the stores can also try preparing at home. Well, the investment is very small, just the cost of a few mustard vegetables. If everything is cleaned and sterilized, chances of failure are very low. Trust me, it is such a confidence boost when you eat your first piece of homemade sour vegetable.
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