I needed a vegetable dish to go with my Dàn dàn noodles and Sichuan chicken. The Chinese are not much into uncooked vegetable side dishes, unless they are pickled in some way. This is the closest that Chinese cuisine comes to a “salad.”
After a day of pickling, I took some of the cabbage out and put it on a plate. It looks so colorless and lifeless. I decided that I had to add some color. I chopped up a red bell pepper and added it to the pickle press.
Karl’s Sichuan Pickled Cabbage with Red Peppers
1 large head napa cabbage
2 Tbs. Kosher salt
2 tsp. dark sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. coarsely ground chili powder
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
1 Indian bay leaf
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns
½ tsp. paprika
1. Cut the cabbage leaves into 1½ inch pieces
2. Toss the cabbage with the salt and let it sweat for 3-6 hours
Tip: Toss the cabbage occasionally to redistribute the brine.
3. Rinse the cabbage with fresh water and squeeze it dry.
4. In a small pot heat the sesame oil and lightly fry the garlic, about 30 seconds.
5. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chili powder.
6. After one minute, add the vinegar, sugar, ginger and bay leaf.
7. Bring the pot to a boil for one minute and then remove the pot from the heat.
8. Add the Sichuan pepper, paprika and one quarter cup of water.
Tip: Cooking Sichuan pepper evaporates its volatile oils. Always add it at the very end of any cooking process.
9. Put the cabbage in a large non-reactive bowl and pour the pickling sauce over it. Toss to coat the leaves.
Tip: A Japanese pickle press mechanically pushes the vegetables under the liquid. A Chinese pickling jar has a bowl shaped lid that fits into a water moat around the top to seal the jar and keep air/mold/bugs away from the pickles. You may need to add a weighted plate to hold down the vegetables or add enough liquid to cover them.
11. Let the cabbage sit at room temperature for one day.
Tip: You may keep them up to a week if you want fermented, rather than fresh, pickles.
12. Mix in the chopped red pepper and let the vegetables sit for four hours or another day.
13. Serve at room temperature.
Note: I knew that Chris, my son-in-law, would find these pickles too tame. He likes his pickles really spicy, I squeezed out most of the pickling brine and stirred in two teaspoons of Karl’s Sichuan Chili Oil. A Sichuan cook would add a tablespoon or two.