Quick and spicy Chinese cabbage tsukemono or pickle (Hakusai no sokusekizuke)

hakusai_sokusekizuke.sidebar.jpgThis has to be one of the easiest and tastiest ways of preparing Chinese or napa cabbage (hakusai) that I know of. All you taste is the fresh essence of the cabbage, with the heat of the red pepper and the slight twist of the orange zest.

Did I say easy? Wash and chop up the leaves, mix together the flavoring ingredients, dump all in a plastic bag, shake then massage. That's it. It's ready to eat right away, though the flavors to meld a bit better if you can manage to keep it in the fridge for at least an hour before eating.

I've used ingredients that anyone should have, even if you aren't stocked up on typical Japanese ingredients. Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes up or down to your taste.

Quick Chinese cabbage pickles (Hakusai no sokusekizuke)

  • About 2 lb / 1 kg (a small whole head or half of a large head) fresh Chinese (napa) cabbage (about 6 cups cut up)
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable stock granules (or about 1/2 a Knorr-sized stock cube)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. orange zest in thin strips
  • Optional: 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • Optional: 1 tsp. dark sesame oil

Equipment needed: a large plastic zip bag

Wash the cabbage leaves, and discard any discolored parts. Dry by spinning in a salad spinner or in several layers of paper towels. Chop up roughly.

Mix together all the dry ingredients and orange zest in a bowl. If you're using a stock cube, crumble it up finely.

Put the cabbage in the plastic bag, and the dry ingredients + orange zest. Close the bag with plenty of air in it (so it's like a balloon) and shake all around until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Open the bag, expel as much air as you can, and close again. Massage and toss the bag around, bruising the cabbage. Quite a lot of moisture will come out of the cabbage and melt the salt etc. Try not to burst the bag with over-enthusiastic kneading.

You can eat this right away, or leave in the refrigerator in the bag for about an hour (you can do it over night too).

To serve, drain off the excess moisture (which is delicious, but rather salty...though some people like to drink it off!). Drizzle with the optional lemon juice or sesame oil. Serve with any Japanese style meal. Makes a great bento box item.

Filed under:  japanese lighter vegetables vegetarian quickcook bento vegan under10 tsukemono

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This looks great - thanks Maki! Just a couple of queries, could lemon zest be substituted for orange? Plus, am I right to assume that Chinese Cabbage is the same 'beast' as 'Chinese Leaves/Lettuce'? Thanks.

Djinn, any citrus zest can be substituted. In Japan people most often use yuzu or mikan (tangerine or clementine type) orange zest but other ones would work fine too.

Chinese cabbage and lettuce are different I think... here's a pic of the cabbage:


and the lettuce (otherwise called Celtuce)


I meant the first kind of vegetable...though the other one may work too.

Great - thanks Maki. I was thinking of the first vegetable too. :)

Hi Maki,

Thanks so much for this! I love tsukemono and always have leftover hakusai. This is perfect.

Anyway-I don't use veggie granules because I can't find any in Japan without MSG. Could you suggest something else? Dashi/stock, for example?


Jill, in Japan you can use dashi granules, or some shredded up kombu (increasing the amount of salt slighty if needed). Even kombu tea granules would work (if you can find one w/o MSG). The most natural one to use would be shredded up kombu. (I didn't suggest it for this first recipe since a lot of people outside of Japan can't get it.)

You can get msg free vegetable boullion in Japan from the health food store mail order service Tengu foods... At least when I lived there, anyway. :) I think regular dashi granules (at least dashi no moto) contain msg, though..

One thing of concern to me, 'cause I'm a gluten intolerant girl, is whether or not aji no moto is derived from gluten. I've tried searching on their site without any luck.... If anyone knows or can find out, I would be grateful. I can read Japanese, but it takes me longer to research. I read that Japan produces something like 40% of the world's MSG- it would be great if I could find out if it was gluten free. Especially because I love Japanese mayonnaise, but don't know if I should eat it or not.

I will definitely be trying this recipe. I just posted about okonomiyaki on my blog... have you blogged about it? I should go check the archives....


I haven't posted a traditional okonomiyaki recipe here but I have posted a vegetarian one some time ago...though it's sort of iffy I must admit :) here it is anywho.

Let me look up ajinomoto...

Tried this recipe yesterday and it turned out great. I have always loved pickled vegetables, Japanese style in particular, so this series of recipes are a great find. Thank you!

Don't know why I have this liking of pickled veg, but this recipe brought back a memory from my child hood. I grew up in a small town in Sweden, and in the 80s Chinese (well, what passed as Chinese in Sweden at the time) lunch restaurants was the thing.

There was this particular place in my home town that I loved going to, since they had this special treat for their customers. After you ordered at the counter you picked up a plate with what I realise now was pickled Chinese cabbage or iceberg lettuce, with corn. It must have been pickled using some sort of sweet mirin or similar liquid since the taste was acidic, fresh and sugary sweet at the same time. I could not get enough of it. Getting the recipe of that would be a dream come true.

Went back there a few months ago when on vacation in Sweden actually. The restaurant is still there, under the same name even, but the place has now switched owners several times and been turned into a buffet style lunch place with the mouth watering plates of pickled cabbage nowhere to be seen.

This recipe was good, but made me yearn for the pickled cabbage of my youth. Time to start experimenting methinks. :) Thanks for the inspiration and push in the right direction.

Manne, if you recreate the pickled cabbage, I hope you'll post it on your blog! Sounds delicious!

Can you use dried zest equally well (since it'll get moistened with the cabbage juices) as freshly zested zest?

Sure, dried zest should work fine.

I tried this, and it didn't seem to get much flavor. Possibly, I didn't add enough salt, but after going over 1 tsp extra, I didn't want to add anymore. It ended up tasting like slightly spicy (from the pepper flakes) cabbage. I expected something else, but maybe I'm just expecting wrong.
Thank you for the recipe

You may be expecting a more fermented flavor, in which case you would just need to let it mature more. But otherwise, you might have been expecting it to taste like kimchi perhaps...which is fermented a lot longer.

Do you know how long can this be kept for?

It's fine for about a week...though I've eaten older ones (kept in the fridge, as with all 'quick' pickles). It does deteriorate after say, 10 days or so. Trust your senses...

I have tried this recipe a couple of times now, and I lovelovelove it! One variation I tried: I added a bit of very finely chopped fresh ginger to the dry ingredients. I liked the result, and would recommend it as a variation to the dish every now and then.

Thank you very much for this recipe!

That sounds great. I'll have to try that variation.

Magic recipe! As close as I've managed to come to Kimchi in New Zealand. I once bought a tetrapac of Korean kimchee but even in double plastic bags it smelled so strong every time I opened the refrigerator door that I was forced by popular demand to dispose of it. This recipe is quick, easy and not so smelly:-)

Next time I shall try adding some grated carrot.

Due to poor reading skills (or over-excitment) I added the lemon juice and sesame oil at the start but it was still great.

Thanks for the recipe!

Just tried this yesterday (using up some old dried orange peel in a decades-old jar) for a weekly potluck dinner I go to. I thought it was fantastic, and it was a big hit with other guests. I will definitely make this again! Next time, I might try a drop or two of lemon juice in the brine itself.

As always, Maki, thanks for your fantastic recipes.

Can I substitute Nutritional Yeast (Red Star mini Flake) for the vegetabel stock grasnuales? I cannot find any free of soy, dairy, gluten and MSG. Thank you.

I really don't know since I've never used nutritional yeast as a stock substitute. You can try my recipe for instant tsukemono mix which is all natural, provided you can get the konbu and other ingredients. Just add 2 teaspoons or so instead of the stock granules and salt (to taste).