Zha Cai (preserved vegetables ) in most cases is named Sichuan preserved mustard green and is a tiny and humble side dish, usually packed in small bags. But if you are a returning reader, you may find I mentioned it a lot in my recipes. It has a history of hundreds of years and still keeps great popularity because of its sweet and savory flavor and crunchy texture. Zha Cai can be different in flavors.
What's Zha Cai
Zha Cai (榨菜), also romanized as Cha Tsai, is a type of preserved mustard plant stem originating from the Wujiang River, Chongqing, China. In English, it is commonly known as Sichuan preserved mustard green or Chinese preserved vegetable. It is a group name because we have several different flavors of Zha Cai. The most common and popular Zha Cai is made from the stem Brassica juncea var. tumida which belongs to the group of mustard green. Following is a picture of a whole head of preserved mustard head.
Zha Cai can have lots of forms, whole head (available only in local markets), diced Zha Cai, shredded version, or even minced Zha Cai.
About the processing
The most famous brand of Zha Cai is Wujiang Fuling. The mustard green head which is used to make Zha Cai is called "青菜头" in Chinese and has a lovely and incredible church texture. Sometimes we simply sun-dry it to make another type of preserved vegetable. When I was a child, we planted lots of mustard green heads and then shredded them before sun drying. The dried mustard green is super great for twice-cooked pork belly or serving as a topping for noodles and rice.
Zha Cai is not completely dried like the dried shreds I mentioned. The water content is mainly removed by "pressing". That's the meaning of "榨" which means "removing the water content from vegetables". Firstly it is rubbed with salt and then pressed to remove water content. This process will be repeated 3 times so the perfect church texture can be achieved.
Where to buy and How to keep
Zha Cai now is available in most Chinese supermarkets or online stores like amazon. It is usually packaged in small bags so you can use it in a short time. Zha Cai itself is quite salty so it will last for a longer time (around 2 weeks in the fridge) but it may dry out very quickly. So if there are leftovers, always seal the package to keep it moist.
You can choose from lots of flavors when purchasing. The most popular flavor is the original flavor which is a sweet and savory version, which can be further used in stir-frying and soups. But there are also hot versions in which spice mix is already added. I love to use the spiced version as the noodle topping, side dish of porridge or steamed rice.
How to use it
Zha Cai has a unique and strong flavor. So I love to use it as a seasoning or added to other dishes for extra flavor, stir-frying, soups, noodles, or even salad. The most common dish is the Zha Cai Rou Si, a very popular Sichuan home-style dish. You can use it further used to serve with noodles, making Zha Cai Rou Si noodles.
You can eat Zha Cai directly along with meals. Since it is a little bit salty, it usually serves with other plain staple food like steamed rice, porridge, or noodles.
Some of the local Sichuan dishes also call Zha Cai as a topping including Chongqing noodles and hot and sour noodles. I hope to give you some inspiration, if you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment.
Zha Cai Rou Si Noodles
One of the representative dishes of Zha Cai is Zha Cai Rou Si noodles. It is a mild noodle soup extremely popular. It is made with pork mince, dried chili, and this lovely pickled vegetable known as Zha Cai. The zai cai rou si is used as a topping for the noodle soup.
Instructions for Zha Cai Rou Si
Marinate the shredded pork with salt, white pepper, light soy sauce, water, and starch. Set aside for 15 minutes. Add some extra oil to cover just before stir-frying.
Add around 2 tablespoons of oil to a wok, then add the shredded pork. Fry until it turns light in color. Transfer out.
Add another 1 tablespoon oil, fry garlic, and dried chili pepper until aroma. Then place the shredded Zha Cai in. Fry for 1 minute.
Return shredded pork, and pour light soy sauce along the edges. Mix in scallion sections. Give everything a big stir fry.
At the same time, cook dried noodles based on the instructions. In a serving bowl, add green onion, sesame oil, light soy sauce, and a small pinch of salt. Transfer the noodles.
Top the Zhai Cai rou si and serve hot.
Zha Cai Rou Si Noodles
Pork and Marinating
- 150 g pork
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. white pepper
- 1 tbsp. light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. water
- 3 tsp. cornstarch
- 1 cup Zha Cai shreds
- 2 scallions, cut into sections
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 dried chili pepper , optional
- 3 tbsp. cooking oil
- 1 tsp. sesame oil.
- ½ tbsp. light soy sauce
For each serving noodle
- 1 serving noodle
- 1 tbsp. light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. chopped green onion
- 1 tbsp. sesame oil
- Marinate the shredded pork with salt, white pepper, light soy sauce, water, and starch. Set aside for 15 minutes. Add some extra oil to cover just before stir-frying.
- Add another 1 tablespoon oil, fry garlic, and dried chili pepper until aroma. Then place the shredded Zha Cai in. Fry for 1 minute.
- Return shredded pork, and pour light soy sauce along the edges. Mix in scallion sections and drizzle sesame oil. Give everything a big stir fry and serve hot!
- Cook the noodles according to the instruction on the package. In a serving bowl, add green onion, sesame oil, light soy sauce, and a small pinch of salt. Transfer the noodles.
I was surprised at just how much zha cai tastes like classic Central/Eastern European plain sauerkraut, which is just fermented cabbage. If I was making something and had one, but not the other, I'd not hesitate to use sauerkraut for the flavor profile. Note: they look nothing like one another, so if looks are a consideration, you'll have to figure that out. Elaine - thank you so much for such an outstanding blog. Many of my, and my family's, favorite recipes come from your site.
Thanks for the information. I will see whether I can get some on my side. That cabbage seems quite a good fermentation food.