The famous Sichuan fermented vegetables are an addictive and refreshing side dish. I am sharing this authentic ferment with a modern fermentation method that everyone can execute at home.
These fermented vegetables are naturally preserved and probiotic. Suitable for vegan and vegetarian diets.
Sichuan Fermented Vegetables
Sichuan fermented vegetables are also called Sichuan pickles, Sichuan kimchi, or Sichuan Pao Cai (四川泡菜) in Chinese. Sichuan-style ferments are extremely popular across China. They are famous for the numbing-spicy and sour taste with a hint of the rice liquor’s fragrance.
Traditionally, vegetables are fermented in large clay crocks, kept in a dark cool spot in the house. In rural areas, they can even be half-buried underground in the shade of the house for cooling purpose.
The brine of the ferments remain in the crocks for ages, while families taking out fermented vegetables to eat and adding new vegetables into the crocks continuously.
The fermenters will need to maintain the brine on a regular basis, by removing any growth of microbes on the surface and replenishing water, salt and other ingredients as needed.
When starting a new batch of fermented vegetables, add some brine from an old ferment can help to kick start the process.
Most people don’t own a crock these days, nor have access to old brine from an already fermented batch of Sichuan pickles. However, we can still make this authentic dish using fresh ingredients and a glass jar. My recipe provides a modern method that can be used at home for those making Sichuan-style fermented vegetables for the first time.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here is what I used to make this recipe, as seen in the photos. However, this is a very flexible recipe, and you can use a variety of vegetables in this ferment. So, feel free to swap for what you have on hands.
- Ginger root
- Fresh chili peppers (red and green): I used fresh red bird’s eye chilies and hot Corno di Capra peppers in this batch. You can use any kinds.
- Red Sichuan peppercorns
- Whole star anise
- Taiwanese flat cabbage: Substitute with green cabbage if not available.
- Red radish
- Filtered water
- Sea salt
- Rock sugar: Substitute with granulated cane sugar if not available.
- Baijiu: Baijiu is a class of high alcohol content Chinese fermented grain spirits. I used the “red star” brand Erguotou, a low-end Baijiu and the most economical and suitable for cooking. You can use any kind of Baijiu.
What Other Vegetables Can I Use?
In addition to the above ingredient, a variety of vegetables are suitable for this recipe, such as: green beans, Chinese long beans, cauliflowers, Chinese mustard greens, daikon radish, Napa cabbage stems, cucumbers, garlic.
Weighing Down the Vegetables
I recommend using a weight to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine. This will prevent them from floating up to expose to air and grow moldy.
You can buy a glass weight like this one. Or you can use other objects readily available at home. Here are a few creative ideas for weights that I often use:
- A smaller glass jar that can fit inside the opening of the large jar
- A bag of marbles
- A ziplock bag filled with salt brine at the same concentration used in the recipe (as show in the photos below)
Using Sichuan Fermented Vegetables
If you go through these fermented vegetables quickly, you can take them out of the fermentation jar as needed each time. I cut the vegetables into fairly large chunks when I ferment them, so it’s easier to take them out. I then cut the vegetables up into smaller pieces, and serve them as a side dish.
In addition, you can also use the fermented hot peppers in cooking, such as stews and stirfries. Don’t toss away the ginger (and garlic if fermenting), they are delicious in stirfries too.
If you no longer want to use the brine to ferment more vegetables, store the brine in a glass jar in the fridge and add it into soups and stews for amazing flavours.
Storing Sichuan Fermented Vegetables
If you are not eating the vegetables quickly, for example within a few weeks, you may want to take them out of the fermentation jar. It will prevent them from turning soft from fermenting too long. You can store the fermented vegetables in a separate sealed container in the fridge for months. Alternatively, you can transfer the entire fermentation jar into the fridge, until you finish the vegetables.
Personally, I prefer removing the fermented vegetables, and then adding new vegetables into the fermentation jar. The brine of Sichuan pickles is extremely flavourful, so I highly recommend using it continuously to make more batches of the Sichuan pickles.
Related: More Fermentation Recipes You Will Love
- Homemade Fermented Sauerkraut /w Caraway Seeds
- Pineapple-Turmeric-Ginger Probiotic Sauerkraut
- Wild Fermented Salsa (No Whey, Probiotic, Vegan)
- Paleo Apple-Fermented Kimchi
- Keto Kimchi (Whole 30, GAPS, Paleo)
- Fermented Cherry Tomatoes
Sichuan Fermented Vegetables
- 1/3 pound fresh chili peppers red and green
- 1 pound Taiwanese flat cabbage or green cabbage cored
- 1/2 pound carrots peeled
- 1/2 pound red radish
- 4 inches fresh ginger root sliced
- 2 whole star anise
- 3 tablespoons red Sichuan peppercorns
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- 1/4 cup rock sugar or granulated cane sugar
- 6 cups filtered water
- 1/4 cup Erguotou or your choice of Baijiu of over 50% alcohol content
- Cut the chili peppers, carrots, cabbage and radish into desired size. (See notes)
- Add ginger, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and chili peppers into a large glass jar. Place carrots, cabbage and radish on top.
- Dissolve salt and sugar in the water, and add the water into the glass jar. Add the erguotou (Chinese grain spirit) into the jar.
- Place a weight on top of the vegetables to keep them submerged in the brine. Seal the jar with a lid.
- Let the vegetables ferment in a dark cool spot for a minumum of 3 to 7 days. Once the fermentation starts, the vegetables will produce carbon dioxide. Check daily to release air pressure from the jar. The cabbage should be ready after 3 days, radish after 5 days, and carrots after 7 days. You can ferment them longer as needed. The longer the vegetables ferment, the more sour and intense the flavour will become.