Tianjin Preserved Vegetables

Tianjin Dong Cai – preserved CabbageWhat’s it called?
Tianjin preserved vegetable, Tianjin preserved cabbage, Tientsin preserved vegetable, Tianjin winter vegetable, Tiānjīn dōngcài / 天津冬菜 (China), tang chai (Thailand).

What is it?
Tianjin preserved vegetable is made with a thinner, more slender kind of napa cabbage from the Tianjin region called Tianjin cabbage / 天津白菜. The cabbages are first sundried, then chopped into thin strips, rubbed with salt and usually some garlic too and put in earthenware pots to ferment. It tastes a bit like sauerkraut only much more intense. And it tastes strongly of garlic too.

How to use it?
Chop finely and use a little bit of it in soups, stir fries and stews. It is rather salty so it’s a good idea to rinse it first. Tianjin preserved vegetable is normally used in small quantities. To prevent your dish getting too salty, wait with seasoning it with salt or soy sauce until after you’ve added the Tianjin preserved vegetables. Often sold in typical, brown earthenware jars like in the photo above that you can keep in your cupboard almost indefinitely.

Tips, Tricks & Recipes

Zha Cai (Sichuan Preserved Vegetable)

Zha cai - Preserved Mustard

What’s it called
Sichuan preserved vegetable, Szechwan vegetable, Chinese pickled vegetable, pickled mustard tuber, zha cai / zhàcài / 榨菜 (China). Also: tsa tsai / jar choy / jar choi / ja choi / ja choy / cha tsoi.

What is it?
The pickled, rather strange looking stem of a special kind of mustard cabbage from Sichuan, the Brassica juncea var. tsatsai (see photo). These fist-sized bulby stems are rubbed with plenty of salt, then pressed with weights to slowly release its moisture. Then they are dried, rubbed with red, hot chili paste and left to ferment in big earthenware jars. This process is pretty similar to the way Koreans make kimchi and the taste and texture is a bit like our pickled cucumber.

How to use it?
You usually find Zha Cai in tins. Open the tin, then cut off the piece you need, rinse off the chili paste, de-salt it by soaking it for about half an hour in a cup of water, vinegar or white wine. Then cut it into small strips or cubes and use in all kind of dishes. You can braise, cook, stir-fry or even eat it raw, as a pickle. Zha cai bought in bags usually is already cut into strips for you. Never keep leftovers in the tin, transfer to a small container or plastic bag and keep refrigerated. It will keep for months if not years.

Tips, Tricks & Recipes

Preparing Zha Cai

Ya Cai (Sichuan pickled mustard greens)

Ya Cai – Sichuan Pickled Mustard greensWhat´s it called?
Ya cai / 芽菜, suimi ya cai, preserved mustard greens from Sichuan, Sichuan pickled mustard cabbage.

What is it?
The pickled leaves of a mustard plant variety “guang gan qing cai”, only known/grown in Sichuan. The leaves, which are first rubbed with salt and sundried are layered in stoneware pots, together with sugar and maybe some chilli pepper and left to ferment for months. Ya cai is one of the basic tastes of Sichuan cuisine.

How to use it?
Ya cai is very difficult to find in the West, the most famous brand (Suimi) is sold in little, convenient bags . It’s probably best to rinse it under the tap to get rid of the excess salt. Then squeeze it to get rid of the water. You can shortly stir fry it in some oil to make it semi-crunchy and use as a garnish. You can also add it to the garlic and ginger when making a stir fry.

Tips, Tricks & Recipes

Other, comparable pickled vegetables?:

Suan Cai (Chinese sauerkraut)

 Suan Cai – Chinese pickled mustard greens
What’s it called?
Chinese sauerkraut, Chinese kimchi, pickled Mustard Greens, dưa chua (Vietnam), swan tsai / suān cài / 酸菜 (literally: sour vegetablesn) or xián cài / 鹹菜 (literally: salted vegetables) (China).

What is it?
Suan cai probably is the very first version of sauerkraut; cabbage is shortly blanched in boiling water, then sundried, sprinkled with plenty of salt, transferred to big earthenware jars and topped with weights that will slowly press out all moisture during fermentation. In the North of China they use napa cabbage (sometimes even plain, white cabbage, like in sauerkraut), in the South of China they use the less familiar jie cai (Chinese mustard cabbage). Similar to sauerkraut, suan cai tastes sour, not salty as you might expect.

How to use it?
Often sold in plastic bags. Rinse the suan cai under the tap, then leave it for a while in some water (with a dash of vinegar) to get rid of most of the excess salt. Use some chopped suan cai as topping on beef noodle soup, to flavor the filling of jiaozi, incorporate it in stir fries or simply serve it as a little side dish. It’s the suan cai that gives the typically sour edge to the broth for Northern Chinese style hotpot. Suan cai goes well with greasy pork or fish. Sealed in its bag you can keep it for months, if not years. Once opened you can still keep it quite some time, but best refrigerated.

Tips, Tricks & Recipes

Suan Cai – pickled Chinese Mustard cabbage

Kona karashi (Japanese Mustard)

kona karashi (Japanese mustard)What’s it called?
Japanese mustard, Japanese mustard powder, hot mustard, wa-garashi / 和からし (mustard), kona-karashi / 粉からし (mustard powder), neri-garashi / ねりからし (mustard powder paste).

What is it?
Kona karashi simply is the Japanese version of mustard, only normally it’s not a readymade sauce or paste like we´re used to in the West, it’s a powder that you have to mix yourself with a little water. This means the mustard will taste hotter, much more pungent, but also a little bit more bitter and less sour because no vinegar is added like in Western mustards. It is made of the same, ground mustard seeds though, so it isn’t hugely different. Nowadays you can also buy it in tubes, but why would you?

How to use it?
Just mix some powder with a little water (ratio 1:1) to form a paste. Preferably shortly before you want to eat it as it will lose flavor quickly once exposed to the air. If you want to keep it, then cover it with some cling film.
Serve it on the side with your steak, schnitzel cq tonkatsu, oden, miso-soup or natto. Or mix it with some soy sauce, ketchup or mayonnaise to form a sauce. Use it to dry rub a pork chop, whatever you like. Japanese mustard powder keeps almost for ever.

Tips, Tricks & Recipes

  • You can add a little turmeric powder to lift the color into a brighter yellow.
  • Kona Karashi is actually quite comparible to Colmans’s English Mustard Powder. So you could substitute one with the other.

Mustard Seeds

Mustard seeds BrownWhat’s it called?
There are actually 3 kinds of mustard seeds:
* white / yellow mustard seed (Brassica hirta/alba)
* brown / sarepta mustard seed (Brassica juncea)
* black mustard seed (Brassica nigra)

What is it?
The perfectly round, small seeds of various plants in the genus Brassica. In the Western world mustard seeds are mainly used to make mustard. In the rest of the world it’s also used as a (powdered) spice. Mustard seeds don’t of taste much until you bruise them and mix them with water or until you heat or grind them. It’s only then that the sharp taste is released.

Mustard Seeds YellowHow to use it?
Indian recipes often start with frying some mustard seeds for a few seconds in hot oil or ghee, the moment they start popping the other ingredients are added. This technique is called “Tarka”. Unlike mustard (the sauce), mustard seeds are actually more nutty and fragrant than sharp. They are often part of spice mixes like masala, curry powder, Cajun mixes. When stored cool, dry and air-tight mustard seeds can keep for months if not years.

Tips, tricks & recipes

  • Recipe with yellow mustard seeds: making your own Cajun spice mix
    Recipe with Brown mustard seeds: Madhur Jaffrey’s salmon curry
  • Black mustard seeds can only be harvested manually, which is rather labour intensive. That’s why you won’t find them easily in the shops. Luckily you can substitute them with brown mustard seeds which taste quite similar only a little less pungent.
  • Some recipes say you can substitute brown with yellow mustard seeds, but I would never do that. Substituting yellow with brown is okay.
  • Indian cuisine also uses mustard oil. Raw (in vinaigrettes) it tastes pungent, heated it tastes more sweet and nutty.