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the smile on my face

Recipe: pickled chinese cabbage

My good friends know that I have a rule about worrying – I try not to fret about things I have no control over. This comes in handy because I get several medical scans and tests and I generally do not waste an ounce of energy on worrying myself before I get the results. Life comes with her own stresses as it is, there is no reason for me to be heaping more on. The further I move away from my cancer treatments, the more they become a faded memory. With the exception of a few permanent issues that I’ll carry for the rest of my life, I am doing very well and I feel good! I feel normal.

kaweah loves her summer walks

I get one mammogram and one MRI every year to scan for new or recurring cancer. I don’t expect anything from the mammogram because it never detected my original cancer whereas the MRI did. So I had an MRI a few weeks ago… and I never heard from radiology about the results. I have been so busy I had essentially forgotten about it. It was on the drive to my oncology appointment that Jeremy admitted to me he was concerned about my MRI, because we hadn’t heard anything. At first I felt horrible that my dear man – the fellow who was my only caregiver during my entire ordeal – was quietly worrying himself sick over me. Then the thoughts crept into that dark part of my brain. Perhaps radiology only calls you with results when everything is fine, but wants to give you the bad news in person? Well no – my surgeon gave me the bad news over the phone. What gives? And so went my internal conversation.

heart-leaf arnica dot the forest understory

It’s hard to describe what I felt. I powered through chemo as best I could, but I found myself dreading that last infusion because each one did more damage than the previous. It’s not just the treatments, but feeling as if your body is not your own as your condition deteriorates under the chemicals. I look at my friend, Barbara, and think what a lion she is for enduring chemo not once, but THREE times and yet she is so grounded and strong.

i always welcome the arrival of the brilliant green aspen leaves

But my appointment was a happy occasion because my oncologist was back. He had been on leave for cancer treatment – a horrible treatment far worse than mine, and yet here he was looking great and joking and smiling and being his awesome self. My onc is one of the finest human beings I have ever had the privilege to know. Truly. We adore him. I asked about my MRI results and he pulled them up on the computer (electronic records ROCK) and read them out to me. Negative. No cancer detected. He sent a copy to the printer for me to have. He smiled at me and I smiled at Jeremy who squeezed my hand.

last light over the local peaks

By my estimates, we’ve experienced about 7 days of spring between the last snow storm and the onslaught of hot weather. 80°F on my deck is hot and not in the good way. Even Kaweah is sprawled out in the cool office instead of roasting her brains in the great room right now. Despite the heat, our house is in a particularly good mood this weekend – more so than usual. Part of that could be the MRI results and part of that could be this pickled Chinese cabbage I’m noshing.

start with a head of napa cabbage

wash, shake off, and blot dry the leaves

It happens more often than you might think. I’ll describe a dish to my parents and ask if they know how to make it, but when they describe the recipe I’ll say, “That doesn’t sound like what I’m talking about.” I can imagine their frustration because if I were them I’d be all “Okay, whatever, I can’t help you.” But they insist their recipe is correct or Mom will call Grandma for her recipe (which is invariably different from Mom’s or Dad’s recipe) and I’m just confused. I went with intuition and a little help from each of their recipes to come up with this salty, sweet, vinegary, spicy, fragrant, cold pickled cabbage.

slice up the leaves

mix and boil the pickling liquid

There was a Chinese restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia that my family frequented when I was a little kid. The owner was a soft-spoken and kind gentleman who always treated my parents like old friends and gave me and Kris complimentary Shirley Temples. I would get so excited when my parents ordered a cold appetizer plate leng pan because in the center of the beautiful fans of cold cuts would be a little bowl of cold pickled vegetables – my favorite. I’m pretty sure it was Chinese cabbage and daikon radish. It’s one of those childhood memories that stick in your brain and then 30 years later you look at yourself and think, “Sheesh, I’m a freaking food blogger – ya think I could figure this one out?”

sichuan peppercorns and other goodies

layering everything in the jar

Not only was I very excited about making this pickle from my youth, but I scored a 1-gallon canning jar at the craft store. [I’m not canning anything at the moment, but I *am* pickling and infusing – so stay tuned for more jarred goodness!] Some of the recipes called for blanching the cabbage, others involved salted water, some tossed the cabbage with oil. I just went for straight cabbage with stuff and pickling juice. The carrots and red bell pepper were more for color than anything else (they’re great too), but are completely optional. Here is what isn’t optional: Sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers (like the ones I used in the kung pao chicken recipe). The Sichuan peppercorns are not like regular black peppercorns. They have a spicy fragrance more akin to pine, but in the pickle they add a bright zing to the cabbage. Even if you don’t like spicy foods, I recommend popping a couple of dried red chili peppers into the mix for that added dimension. If you *like* spicy, then add a dozen.

pour in the liquid

after several hours, the cabbage compacts down

This pickled cabbage makes a great appetizer or side dish. I avoid eating the peppercorns and the chilis as it can be quite startling if you unintentionally bite into either of those. You can also substitute regular cabbage for Napa cabbage. It’s all good in my book.

a lovely little bowl of pickled vegetables

Pickled Chinese Cabbage
[print recipe]

1 head Napa cabbage
5-6 slices of fresh ginger
5 oz. (1/2 cup + 2 tbsps) sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt
1 cup rice wine vinegar
2 cups water
1 carrot, peeled and cut into slivers
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into slivers (optional – I just added them for color)
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
6-12 dried red chili peppers (depending on how spicy you want it)

Lop off the base of the head of Napa cabbage. Separate the leaves and wash them. Shake off excess water and blot with a towel. Stack several leaves together in the same orientation and cut a couple of 1-inch sections (the tougher white parts) – don’t throw them out, you’ll want to keep it all. Then slice the remaining leafy section lengthwise. Repeat with all of the leaves. The smaller leaves can be left whole. In a small saucepan, heat the ginger, sugar, salt, rice wine vinegar, and water. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat. In a large glass jar, layer the cabbage, carrots, bell pepper (if using), Sichuan peppercorns, and red chili peppers. Pour the pickling liquid (including the ginger) into the jar. Cover the jar tightly. Give it a shake. Place in refrigerator. Don’t worry if the liquid doesn’t cover all of the cabbage, over time the cabbage will wilt and settle into the liquid. Refrigerate for at least a day, but I prefer at least three days.

32 nibbles at “the smile on my face”

  1. Anh Rohrbach says:

    Jenni, thank you so much for sharing your good news…I am happy for you. I, myself….have a sister with 4th stage Lung Cancer and never smoke a cigarette in her life…Kim found out she has the deadly disease Sept 12th 2008. From the end of Sept till the end of Dec 2008 Kim was on a Chemo drug trial …it worked at first with so so much side affects…Beside Chemo drug, Kim became vegetarian…I juiced for her everyday and she eats only organic vegetable and fruits. Regular Chemo since December until now with only 2 weeks break….once every 3 weeks. A single mom with 2 daughters are pretty tough but my sister…A Hero…with beautiful attitude of life…Lots of up and down….her last scan looks good except her score keeps going up and up…her doctor can’t come up with an answer…Kim is scheduled to have her brain scanned and bone scanned on June 24th…Doctor said all her lymph notes have gone down tremendously but her score is up and up …wonder if cancer cells have spreaded…I am numb when thinking of what she is going through…but all us are bracing and try to be strong for her…..

  2. Wei-Wei says:

    That is wonderful news. I’m really happy for you – cancer is definitely no fun. But about this pickled cabbage… I see these all over the place here in China, and my mom makes it occasionally, too. I don’t know how I feel about the taste because it’s been ages since I last had it.


  3. mike mallory says:

    cancer aint got shit on happy people who make delicious pickled vegetables!

    my take on the matter-


  4. barbara says:

    I’m always so pleased when I hear of a clear MRI for anyone, but especially when it’s a friend. I think champagne is called for…here and there.

    I have made pickled vegetables using a greek recipe but the pickling vinegar was far to strong. I have never used rice wine vinegar, and 2 cups water would make it about right for me. I like how this recipe doesn’t require blanching the veges first.

  5. Ruth Ann says:

    Great news on the MRI! Woot!
    Your photos of the pickled cabbage are as colorful and beautiful as ever. Your blog with its wonderful colors and humor is always a pick-me-up.

  6. Bing says:

    I make a version that mimics my mother’s recipe – regular cabbage, daikon, and carrots. I love it, but everybody else complains about the smell…

  7. Nan says:

    So glad the MRI went well! Love pickled anything so this is a doubly good post! Lots of exclamation points warranted! ;)

  8. Rosa says:

    I’m so happy for you! Great news :-D!

    Wonderful clicks and a delightful pickle.



  9. TheKitchenWitch says:

    My sweet friend, I am so glad about the negative MRI! Truly wonderful, happy news.

    I’m going to make that cabbage! I love pickled anything, especially something with zing! Plus, it will make my husband gag (he hates pickled anything) and that is always delicious fun.

  10. Maggie says:

    I’ve never posted on your Blog, but I have enjoyed reading it for some months now. Your humor and outlook on life inspire me, as does your cooking! I was in China last year and brought home a whole bag of Sichuan peppercorns for dry-fry beef and now I’m so excited to have another recipe to use them in.

  11. Whitney says:

    I am so happy that your scans were negative! Wonderful summer news indeed.

  12. My Kitchen in the Rockies says:

    I am happy for you that your MRI came back fine.
    I love the colors of the pickled cabbage dish.

  13. Kristin says:

    Hooray for the good news! And you’re an inspiration again…I want to get to your place of not worrying about things you can’t do anything about.

  14. Jill says:

    I’m hoping I can convince my sister to make this dish! It just makes my mouth water! So glad you received an excellent report! And shame on Radiology!

  15. Barb says:

    I think I’ve been ‘lurking’ long enough – Congratulations on your wonderful MRI news! I love your blog – thank you so much for sharing with the rest of us.

  16. Shannon says:

    Happy news! Here’s to a wonderful hot summer filled with great food and great scenery to nourish you from the inside out!

  17. Emma says:

    Be strong! I wish all the best to you!
    One of my best friend got lung cancer 3 months ago. I pray for him everyday.
    I read your blog frequently because am really enjoy of it!
    Thank you so much and take care!

  18. Caitlin says:

    Pickled vegetables are awesome things – always my favorite part of korean food too! I love how easy it is to recreate them at home. And again, three cheers for the clear MRI :)

  19. Linda says:

    Your story was poignant. Jeremy is such a good guy. I’m so happy for your “negativity”. So funny you would post pickled cabbage. I was just talking about making some kimchee with my daughter. Where do you get the Sichuan peppercorns? I love pickled vegies and like to make all different cuisine’s versions.

  20. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand says:

    I am SO making pickled cabbage in honor of a clear MRI and a disease-fighting, life-living, joy-finding attitude.

  21. Judy says:

    Glad to read the good news. I haven’t pickled cabbage before, so perhaps I should give it a try.

  22. Georgia says:

    That is lovely news to hear about your health. Congratulations! And thank you also for sharing such a great canning recipe. I am a huge fan of anything canned – it’s such a flexible technique!

  23. Jenny says:

    I’m so happy for you, heres to many more normal MRI scans!

  24. Grace says:

    Beautiful pictures aside, you are one of the strongest people that I don’t even know. Thank you for providing inspiration through your strength and *ahem* grace.

  25. Y says:

    Fantastic to hear everything is going well! And you’ve just reminded me.. it’s been a long while between pickled cabbages. Must try your recipe some time.

  26. jenyu says:

    I appreciate all of the sweet comments, everyone! Thanks so much :)

    Barbara – you’re such a love – cheers! I also like how the recipe doesn’t blanch the vegetables. Although my dad’s version is one that blanches and then ferments. Haven’t tried it yet – I’m sure it’s good.

    Bing – um, kimchi much? The best foods are some of the smelliest!! :)

    TKW – thank you, sweetie. xo

    Maggie – I’m always looking for good recipes to my bag of Sichuan peppers too! hee hee.

    Kristin – it’s not always easy, but I think it helps make life *better* :)

    Jill – ;) I have no idea what was up with Radiology this time?!

    Barb – welcome out of lurkdom! Thank you and we’re glad to have you :)

    Linda – well, my mom gave me the bag of peppercorns… I imagine you can find them at a good Asian market though. Seems to be tough to find in some places. I don’t know that I’d ever find them in Colorado?

    Tamar – you are the best, my dear. THE BEST! xo

    Y – hello sweetie! Thank you and yes, try the recipe – it’s a refreshingly wonderful pickled cabbage if you like sour and sweet.

  27. Nan says:

    I’m so happy to hear your scans were negative. I found your blog while going through my own cancer ordeal. Your courage and don’t give up attitude was a source of comfort and strength for me. But I keep coming back for the beautiful photography and the recipes.

  28. kam wai leng says:

    can this pickling recipe preserve the cabbage for long period of time? if so how long could this pickling preserve the cabbages. look forward to receive your reply at soonest possible, thank you

  29. jenyu says:

    kam – Oh I don’t know. Mine kept for at least a week (before I ate it all), but I’m sure they could last a month.

  30. Sean says:

    Darlin’, I would so love to see this featured on Punk Domestics! Would you, could you?

  31. Teresa says:

    Hi Jenny, I want to encourage you. I am coming up on 20 yrs. post Breast Cancer with mets. Mine didn’t show up on mammogram either. You can rock with a + attitude, prayers, a loved one and lots of good natural foods without preservatives. I actually went to raising most of my organic veggies, raising my own hens for meat and eggs, my own rabbits for meat, fish (and learned how to fillet them after cleaning them), herb garden and medicinal herbs. I am cancer free and I am believing you are to. Love your blog!!!

  32. Jan says:

    I just finished making this with a vey small head of Napa Cabbage and it barely fit into my liter and a half jar. Looks gorgeous and I can’t wait for the 3 days to elapse so we can try them. Thank you for posting this wonderful recipe!!!! I often make Thai or other Asian dishes for supper and this will be a great addition!
    Best wishes to you, and family.

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