Chinese Preserves and Pickles: Salt-Preserved Chrysanthemum Greens

Today begins my year of experiementation in pickling and preserving, Chinese style, beginning with one of the easiest preserving recipes you can imagine.

If preserving or pickling isn't your thing, perhaps have a read of this exciting travel post on the terrifying Hanging Temple, or go and vote for Life on Nanchang Lu at the 2013 Bloggies. Have you voted yet? You have? I love you. (If you haven't yet, it's dead easy, I'm in the Best Asian Weblog category. Voting closes this Sunday and there's a rumour of dumplings for everyone who submits a vote!)

China is an abundant Land of Plenty for pickle lovers, and just to be clear, we're not talking about sweet vinegar flavoured cucumbers or cocktail onions. Chinese pickles are a different breed altogether, intensely savoury and salty, rarely sweet, eaten on their own or added to stir fries, soups and braised dishes as a punch of intense umami flavour and texture.

There's nothing better than a bowl of steaming noodles with a handful of salty, sour, crunchy pickled green snake beans on top, or a spicy hot Sichuan soup without the balanced sour flavour of pickles. Every corner store sell in China sells tiny foil packets of preserved salted mustard greens with chili, or salt pickled mushrooms as snacks, and every supermarket and wet market has an extraordinary array of fresh pickles to choose from. I knew I had reached some kind of milestone in my love of Chinese food when I ate pickled greens straight from the foil pouch for an afternoon snack for the first time.

They do look rather intimidating at first, knobs of brown somethings and shreds of dark green somethings, and orange coloured strips of who knows what. But you just need to taste them, to realize how these intensely flavoured vegetables can become so deliciously addictive.

Typical supermarket display - forty kinds of pickled and preserved vegetables.

Before we all had refrigerators in our homes, surplus food from the harvest needed to be preserved in some way. Chinese cuisine has myriad ways of doing this - salting, drying, pickling, fermenting, all in the name of inhibiting bacterial growth and preserving food.

Today's recipe is incredibly simple and gives beginners like me a taste of home preserving in the shortest time possible - two days. No need to wait months to see if you got it right, this is instant gratification - or as instant as it gets in the world of preserves!

Paocai 泡菜 Salt-Preserved Chrysanthemum Greens

Paocai 泡菜 (literally to steep or soak vegetables) is an all-encompassing term for vegetable pickles made. These are made with chrysanthemum greens (a different chrysanthemum species to the flowering variety), available fresh from Chinese markets. The leaves are light and feathery, as shown.


Wash greens and prepare by trimming of any discoloured leaves or stalks. Using a wide, shallow bowl, sprinkle over 4 teaspoons of salt. Now using a rolling, back and forth motion with the heel of one hand, work the salt through the greens.

As you do this liquid will begin to come out of the greens, frothy and bright chlorophyll green. 

Far from being worried, rest assured that this is exactly what should happen as the salt begins to draw water out of the stalks.

Continue for about fifteen minutes until the stalks and leaves are completely softened and wilted, like cooked lettuce. There will be enough liquid now to cover the greens.

Leave the bowl in a cool dry place, covered to protect from dust, for two to three days. 

The optimum time to preserve the vegetables depends very much on the ambient temperature and the desired taste. If you live in a very hot climate, this step can be carried out in the refrigerator but will take longer to develop - three full days.

During this time the greens will develop a yellow hue and will smell vegetable-y. This is normal. If a rotten decomposed vegetable smell develops, you've gone too far - the room temperature might be too high.

One day of preservation gives a very light and still fresh taste, two days gives more complex salted flavours, and three days gives even more intesnsity. The first couple of times you'll have to experiment with what taste you like best. 

I tried two days this time, but I'd be happy with an even more intense taste, so next time I'll wait for three days.

After this, drain the liquid from the vegetables by gently squeezing

Place in a colander and give a very short rinse. You don't want to remove all the salt because it adds to the taste.


This green mass of wilted vegetable is exactly what you're after. You just made your first salt-preserved vegetables!

These are ready to eat now and will keep in the refrigerator for another 5 days quite safely.

Using Salt-Preserved Chrysanthemum Greens
These greens, salty and intensely tasty, can now be used in a variety of ways to add flavour to dishes.

Chrysanthemum Greens Stir Fry: Recipe

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