Pickles and Tea Adventures in Asian American Cooking

The Pickle Collection

From top left, going clockwise: From top left, clockwise: 1. Watermelon 2. Red onion 3. Mustard cabbage 4. Carrot and daikon 5. Cabbage kimchi

From top left, going clockwise: watermelon, red onion, mustard cabbage, carrot and daikon, cabbage kimchi. 

I like to pickle all year long and this past summer, I was in quite a pickle frenzy. At one point, I had 5 different pickles sitting in my fridge (I’m lazy and refuse to can). My husband was a little peeved about having his beer displaced so he bought a beer fridge. Ha!

Just for fun, here are some random musings about my pickle collection.

1. Watermelon

Nothing screams summer more than watermelon. And this year, I was thrilled to find yellow watermelons at the farmers market (yes, they taste the same but I digress). To appease my hate-to-waste-food conscience that has always been perturbed by the huge hunks of rind leftover after eating the sweet, juicy middle, I decided to pickle them. If you want, you can leave about 1/2-an-inch of flesh but I always chomp the sweet flesh down to the white rind. Be warned, the allspice berries give the watermelon pickles a kick quite unlike the Asian pickles I’m used to. Click here for a recipe.

2. Red onion 

Before I left for a week-long vacation, I took stock of my fresh produce. There, lying in my veggie basket was a lonely red onion. My good intentions for it had come and gone so I turned it into refrigerator pickles. I was delighted by the fuschia outcome and top sandwiches, braised meats, etc., etc. with it. Click here for a recipe.

3. Mustard cabbage (kai choy)

I’ve always bought pickled mustard cabbage in vacuum-sealed packs at the Asian store. I was was very excited to discover that it’s easy to make at home and definitely much tastier. See below for recipe.

4. Carrot and daikon

Carrot and daikon pickles are a must for some of my favorite Vietnamese dishes: bánh mì sandwiches, vermicelli noodle bowls (bún) and much, much more! I always like to have a stash on hand ready to garnish. Click here for a recipe.

5. Cabbage and daikon kimchi

Did you know you can kimchi-fy just about anything? Now that you do, try any of these wouldn’t-you-know-it vegetables: 

  • cucumbers
  • radishes
  • corn
  • turnips
  • asparagus
  • carrots
  • beets

Click here for a recipe.

mustard cabbage

Pickled mustard cabbage (in the middle) adds a wonderful sweet and sour crunch to a wide array of dishes from congee to braised meats to curries.


Pickled Chinese Mustard Cabbage
Pickling is an easy way to give vegetables an easy makeover. And it's the only way I'll eat Chinese mustard cabbage.By submerging the greens in brine, the bitterness is drastically calmed, and its bite miraculously tamed. The resulting pickle can be added to congee, red curry noodles (kao soi), or any dish that could use a little zesty pick-me-up. Feel free to add chopped red chili peppers or chilli flakes for a little zing.
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Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
  1. 2 cups water
  2. 1 medium bunch mustard cabbage (about 2 pounds), chopped into bite-sized pieces (including the stem)
  3. 1/2 cup warm water
  4. 1/2 cup rice or white distilled vinegar
  5. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  6. 1 tablespoon sea salt
  7. 1-inch piece ginger, sliced into coins
  1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the cabbage and stir until it darkens and starts to glisten, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain.
  2. Make the pickling brine by stirring together the water, vinegar, sugar and salt until dissolved.
  3. Stuff the cabbage and ginger into a 1-quart jar. Pour the brine over the vegetables and seal. Refrigerate 3 to 5 days before eating.
Pickles and Tea http://smithsonianapa.org/


  • Alexandre Jacques

    I love pickles ! Thank you !

    • Pat Tanumihardja

      Me too! Enjoy experimenting!

  • Ajanta Barua

    My favorite is mustard cabbage and kimchi! Although mustard cabbage is my ultimate favorite, it’s what I grew up on and now brings me nostalgia.

    • Pat Tanumihardja

      Hi Ajanta, how do you pickle your mustard cabbage?

  • Filed Under

    September 6, 2016
    Main ingredient    Vegetable    
    • Posted By

      Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Pat Tanumihardja writes about food, travel, and lifestyle through a multicultural lens. Pat especially enjoys covering topics that converge on food, history and culture and has been published in numerous international, national and regional publications. Her cookbook, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook—Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens is a treasury of family recipes and stories spanning over a dozen Asian cultures.

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