Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables

These homemade Sichuan style fermented vegetables are crunchy, with a bracing sour tang.  Beyond tasting good, they contain live bacteria that you won’t often find in store-bought pickled vegetables.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-These homemade Sichuan style fermented vegetables are crunchy, with a bracing sour tang. Beyond tasting good, they contain live bacteria that you won’t often find in store-bought pickled vegetables.

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a year that I’ve been wanting to share with you the Sichuan style fermented vegetables (both the how-to recipe and the vegetables themselves).

I grew up in a house where we consume these fermented vegetables on a daily basis.  We all knew how good tasting, salty, crunchy, and tangy they were.  However, we didn’t know about all the powerful healthy benefits inside this bubbling jar.

Last year, my friend, Willow,  gave me a book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan.  I skimmed through the pages as everybody does with a new book.  Suddenly, the chapter he talked about fermentation caught my attention.  I didn’t get much time to read through the chapter until recently.  I can now say with confidence, fermented foods are so good for our bodies.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-side view-pink napa cabbage, carrots, celery-in a bowl

I know, this may sound like another old wives tale/home remedy with no science behind it.  But, it is so true.  I strongly recommend you to take a little bit of time to read the book; even just 10 minutes.  

Now, let’s get back to the recipe.  Unlike most of the sauerkraut making directions you’ll find on YouTube, sanitizing your jars and utensils is unnecessary.   I’ve never seen my parents, or any neighbors who have a big jar of fermented vegetable ever do this step.  My parents told me, a clean, grease-free jar is good enough to start the batch.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-top view-with sliced beet in a canning jar

However, the enemy of the vegetable fermentation is oxygen.  Most Sichuan style fermented vegetables are made in a porcelain, ceramic, or glass crock.  Typically, it has a deep circular well on the rim of the jar that can hold water, together with an upside down bowl/lid to create an airlock system preventing oxygen from getting into the jar.  You may also know this kind of vessel as German sauerkraut crock.  Well, I couldn’t find this at my local Chinese store, and they are a little bit pricey to buy online .  

The good news is glass jars, such as canning jars, work very well.  So, I started using glass jars and plastic airlocks.  After experimenting with a few batches, I found that airlocks are not necessary.  A   glass jar cleaned with soapy water and a lid are all you’ll need.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-top view-pink napa cabbage, carrots, celery-in a bowl

I like making probiotic-rich food at home.  You’ll always see on my kitchen counter, something bubbling away in jars: water kefir, milk kefir (dairy or non-dairy).  By taking   advantage of my probiotic rich water kefir that I used a starter, I began fermenting vegetables.  With the addition of some ionic sichuan style spices, such as sichuan peppercorn and red chili,  these homemade, live probiotic rich fermented vegetables can be ready in days.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-ingredients-sichuan peppercorn, red chili pepper, salt, fennel seeds, water kefir

Better yet, you can simply add more raw vegetables into the jar, batch after batch, to keep the wild bacteria going.  My mom told me, the longer you use your probiotic brine (the liquid in the jar), the better and stronger the flavors.  Not only are the flavors intensified by the spice and probiotic rich brine, but also the fermentation process itself.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-top view-in a glass canning jar

You can pretty much ferment any kind of vegetable. Vegetables that are harder or have stronger stems, such as long green beans, celery, carrots, radishes, beets, take a little bit longer time to ferment; about 1 week on average.  Leafy vegetables, such as the cabbage and Chinese napa cabbage can be ready overnight or in a couple of days.  As the vegetables ferment, you’ll be dazzled by the pigments of the red chili, red cabbages, and beets making the brine and the other vegetables in the jar more exotically beautiful.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-raw vegetables

One post isn’t enough for me to stress to you how important it is to include homemade fermented food in your diet.  However, I strongly encourage you to do so.  Most store-bought pickles, kimchi, olives, and sauerkraut, etc, are absence from live-cultures before they even hit the supermarket.  “Bacteria-free food may be making us sick”, says Michael Pollan.

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables-side view-in a bowl with chopsticks picking fermented napa cabbage, pink color

Sichuan Style Fermented Vegetables
Prep time
Total time
Recipe type: Side Dish (Vegan | GlutenFree)
Cuisine: Asian
  • 1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorn
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 red chili pepper
  • 5 slices ginger root
  • 2 cups water kefir or more to cover the vegetable (see note 1)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into 3-4 inches length
  • 2 napa cabbage leaves and stems
  • 3 carrots
  1. Clean a quart glass canning jar, fitting lid (plastic preferred due to the acid produced during the fermentation that can corrode a metal lid), and other utensils with soapy water and rinse with tap water. No sterilization is needed.
  2. Pack the canning jar with vegetables as tight as you can. Add the remaining ingredients. Add more water or water kefir to make sure the vegetables are totally immersed in liquid. Cover the jar tightly with a lid. Keep the jar at room temperature and let the vegetables ferment. The napa cabbage leaves can be ready in 2 days, while the celery and carrots can be ready in a 5 days.
1. If you don’t have water kefir to start with, you can dissolve salt in a pot of hot water (roughly 1 oz of salt for every 3 cups of water). Add the spices. Once the brine cools to room temperature, add it to the jar with vegetables. The fermentation will take a few extra days to start.
2. The fermented vegetable should have a nice, pleasant sour smell rather than rotten smell. They should be crunchy instead of mushy and soggy.
3. Once the vegetables are fermented, you can serve them as they are. Remember to add fresh vegetables to continue feeding the live-bacteria in the brine. Moving the jar to a cool place, such as a basement, can slow down the fermentation.
4. If there is white milky stuff floating on the surface, don’t worry. It’s kahm yeast and it’ not harmful. Simply skim it off. It happens when there is not enough salt, or the vegetables are not fresh. Adding more salt or fresh vegetables will take care of this situation.



    • Joyce says:

      Thanks Sarah! That’s so true. So happy I finally put the recipe/post together. That was a fun learning experience for myself as well.

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