Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dưa Cải Chua|Fermented mustard greens

We can pickle that!
1.5L Kilner, Day 3

I first learned how to make dưa cải chua | pickled mustard greens by calling up my mother a few years back.  Her recipe though called for white vinegar and sugar which is not a true ferment dense with natural probiotics.

Wanting to have a fermented greens rich with probiotics, I turned to the internets.  
I found this real foods recipe from Garden Betty and tweaked it to suit my tastes (northern so not spicy and despite being cured of my onion allergies, I still don't love the flavor of raw onions), and I use mineral-rich sea salt rather than bleached/processed pickling salt.  I also don't use her baggy method of weighting since 1) chemicals in plastic such as BPA are endocrine disruptive toxins, and 2) it's not sanitary.

I get my mustard greens from the Asian market or the farmers market since we don't grow it (yet).  Most Asian produce is pesticide-free and not GMO. 

L to R: Fido 5L, Kilner 1.5L, Ball 2QT, Fido .5L, Ball 1QT

You can reuse any old jar or mason jar, however ferments build up pressure as they release gas so you will have to open the lid daily to prevent an explosion.  Salsa jars and kimchi/kimchee jars are better designed to deal with fermenting gases and are preferable to a mayo jar. If you've ever opened a kimchi jar to have it volcano erupt on you, your counter and your clothes, you will come to value an airlock; ferments are not a seductive odor. I've noticed with jars, the veggies are not airtight and therefore go sour faster.  If you are into acquiring ferment specific kitchen gadgetry, at the low end I would recommend an Italian Fido jar that has a clamp which allows gases to release (self-burping) and is airtight (Kilner is another okay UK brand but it's not quite as airtight and it leaks more).  Now that canning is making a comeback, you can frequently find these airtight clamp jars at lower prices in Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Homegoods type discount stores.  (Note: they must indicate they are for home preservation, not just storage or decorative use.  The Ikea clamp ones are not airtight and not suitable for fermenting for example.)  You can get Fido jars and extra gaskets (very important) inexpensively throughout Crate & Barrel Outlet.  For the DIYers, you can make your own airlock ferment jars from mason jars; I've never tried this myself.  This blogger conducted a science experiment to determine which was the best way to ferment.
5L Crock, weights, and búa
(SE Asian pestle)

For those who ferment more frequently or consume more, at the high end, you can get an airtight fermenting crock (Fancypants store William Sonoma has this and so does my favorite Amish homesteading store Lehman's).  I just got my first one, a Boleslawiec, I bought through an HMN member temporarily based in Poland.  It has a water gutter to allow gases to escape and keeps air out.  Crock weights I got from William Sonoma and the pestle I picked up at the Asian market sometime back.  The ones specifically for fermenting are called sauerkraut cabbage crushers and I'm sure are more expensive.

(FYI I am not affiliated with any of the aforementioned stores or companies.  This is my personal opinion.)


  • 3.5 pounds mustard greens
  • 2 tablespoons grey salt (or 1.5 tbs himalayan salt)
  • plus hot water & 1 tbs grey salt for brine


  • 1.5L or 2 QT jar
  • (optional) a wide mouth funnel
  • rock sterilized in boiling water
  • a pestle, cabbage crusher, your fist & forearm

The traditional way of washing greens uses less water than letting the faucet run.  Fill a bucket or large bowl with water and submerge the mustard greens to wash them.  Plunge the greens up and down to get the water sloshing; the dirt and sediment sink to the bottom.  Rub your thumbs across the inner stalks to remove any dirt.  Remove the greens and compost the water lightly rinsing any residue off the bucket.  Repeat at least once more until clean.

Drain the greens in a colander.  In the ideal world, you would be patient enough to dry them either spread out in the sun or by air dry.  Sometimes, I just salt them somewhat damp.  In the future, I think I will use my food dehydrator to quickly dry the greens which along with salting helps the cellulose to contract making for a crunchier pickle.

Chop up the mustard greens and toss with 2 tbs of grey sea salt.  Let this sit for at least 30 minutes so that the water can release.  If you shortcut this and the greens don't have time to absorb the salt, the mustard greens will be mushy.

While the above two steps are taking place, prep your jar.  With any container, I recommend pouring boiling water over the inside to kill off any mold spores or undesirable bacteria.  

When the greens are ready (bright green, salt is dissolved), put the greens in the jar.  Use your hands to handle the greens to colonize it with the good bacteria from your own micro-biome (that's not just love in your momma's cooking, it's her bacteria!) and build/boost/share your immunity.  Pour the juices into the jar as well.  If it's not enough to cover, make a brine of 1 tbs sea salt dissolved in 2 cups hot water and then cooled to a  tepid temperature so you don't cook the greens or kill the good bacteria.  You need to keep the greens below the waterline to avoid spoilage.  Tamp it down (I use a búa--a Southeast Asian wooden pestle that I picked up for a few bucks at the Asian market a few years back); you could also use your clean fist (rinsed clean, not soaped clean; don't kill off your friendly bacteria!).  Use a weight or a rock to keep the greens submerged.

Note the overflow froth
at the clamp of the Kilner.
Also if the greens are full up to the top, place the jar in a rimmed dish to catch any liquid overflow as it burps.  I always forget this step and the worst was when i made sauerkraut with purple cabbage.  It looked like the Smoochy the Rhino got shanked in my pantry cabinet. (Death to Smoochy clip below.)

Store the fermenting greens in a cool place such as a cabinet.  Check it every few days.  If you smell mold or it's discolored, it must be dumped.  So keep it airtight and the greens under the waterline!  Also, open slowly, contents under pressure!  Greens will be ready to eat in about a week, but if left 4 weeks, it will continue to ferment and develop optimal strains of probiotics.  You can refrigerate after day 28 if you wish however the fermenting is complete (keep in mind fermenting is preserving so it should be shelf stable as long as it is airtight and below the water).

Dưa cải chua is typically served with other pungent sweet-salty dishes like caramelized fish or caramelized pork.

In case you didn't know, the new sports drink is pickle juice.  Like whaaat?  
  • H2O--check
  • Sodium--check
  • Electrolytes--check 
And if it's a real ferment (not made with white vinegar) then it's got probiotics.  Great way to rehydrate.  I think the ferment juice from dưa cải chua would be... special.


Dưa cải chua xào thịt | Pork & pickled mustard greens stirfry

My stepdad also makes this great dish stir-frying it with thịt heo quay | BBQ pork or with fresh, tender pork.  I'm not sure of the origins of this dish but it's not something you will find in a restaurant.  This be some soul food.  I think there's some Sinic influence as the only other time I've had it outside of my parents' home is at a Ngai Hoa funeral (subethnic Chinese in Vietnam) for my friend Tuyền's father.

I had a hankering for it the other day and stir fried it with some bacon because that is the pork I had on hand.  This is probably a little on the salty side, but sea salt is dịu or less harsh/salty than regular table salt.  The fat complements the tangy, briny bite of the mustard greens.  Pork works best, but you can use other meats but choose a fatty meat/cut like lamb.  I suggest stir frying with pasture-raised lard (yes, lard) and a little bit of freshly ground black pepper.  If you don't have lard, (untoasted) sesame oil or coconut oil would suit.  If you like it spicy, add chile peppers.


  • fermented mustard greens
  • pork or fatty meat
  • lard or neutral oil
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • optional chile peppers
Sauté the pork with black pepper and chile in a skillet or wok until partially cooked.  Add the pickled mustard greens and sauté until warmed.  Serve warm over rice.

Ăn Ngon Lành|Eat Delectably!


  1. Thank you for this blog post. Can I ask if I air dry the mustard greens over night, should I still salt it for 30 minutes? If yes, should I do it before air drying the vegetable or should I do it after?

    Thanks again!

    1. Yes you should still salt it. Airdrying is to remove water from the exterior of the plant. Salting removes water from the interior of the plant and helps to break down the cellulose. Let me know how it turns out!


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