When Americans think of pickled foods, they often start with two vegetables: cucumbers and cabbage. For both types, the options extend far beyond basic dill slices and sauerkraut. I included 11 cucumber and 7 cabbage pickles in The Complete Guide to Pickling, ranging from quick pickles to relishes to ferments.
In the cabbage category, curtido has become one of my favorites. This pickled cabbage slaw originated in El Salvador and typically combines cabbage, onion, and oregano, sometimes adding other flavors like carrot, chili, garlic, lime, and cilantro. It comes together in just 20 minutes, but letting it sit in salt for a couple of hours to draw out the vegetables’ natural liquid keeps the mixture from becoming watery. After it sits another 6 hours, the curtido is ready to eat—but it keeps in the fridge for several weeks.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe, taken straight from The Complete Guide to Pickling, but here are the basics:
You need just 5 fresh ingredients plus some basic pickling ingredients: vinegar, sugar, and salt.
1. Toss the vegetables with salt and let them sit.
2. Pack them in a jar.
3. Mix and pour in the brine.
4. Wait a few hours, and enjoy.
Tips & Tricks
- The purple carrots and red onion give this slaw a lovely pink hue that infuses more deeply over time. Orange carrots and yellow onions work just as well but will be less colorful.
- I like Diamond Crystal kosher salt when pulling water from vegetables: the large flakes break down quickly and distribute easily in the mix. Other pure salts can be swapped in, but you’ll need check their weight per volume: different brands and types can vary widely in their “saltiness.”
- Apple cider vinegar and brown sugar lend a slightly sweet flavor to this mild pickled slaw. Still, you can replace the vinegar with another type that has 5% acidity and swap out or drop the sweetener if desired.
Twice as Tasty
Head cabbage keeps quite well if undamaged and left whole; I can put it in my unheated mudroom for several weeks alongside my other dry-stored vegetables and fruit. You can also keep it in the fridge—if the heads are small enough that you can find room for them. Once you cut a head open, you want to use it within a few days, making it ideal for dividing between meals and pickles.
A couple of weeks ago, I harvested my first head cabbage of the season, a massive 7 pounder. I split it three ways: a double batch of Eight-Hour Curtido to enjoy right away and share with family, a full batch of Cultured Curtido, a fermented version of the recipe (included in The Complete Guide to Pickling) that fits nicely in a pickling crock and is ready for “decanting” today, and a bowl of Asian Cabbage Salad to enjoy at that night’s picnic.
The curtido itself, quick or fermented, I serve with any dish that pairs well with a dollop of slaw. In El Salvador, it’s often served alongside pupusas, cornmeal flatbreads stuffed with cheese or other fillings. For a picnic, I enjoy it alongside or in Black Bean Tacos, a recipe you can find in The Pickled Picnic.
I’ll be turning future cabbage harvests into more tasty pickles using recipes in The Complete Guide to Pickling. Homegrown napa cabbage will become Classic Kimchi, which I love to make at home because I can control the spiciness. My head cabbage will turn into Kvashenaya Kapusta, a Russian-inspired sour cabbage with a bit of color and flavor from cranberries, and Apple and Cabbage Kraut, a slightly sweet spin on basic sauerkraut.
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