Szechwan Preserved Vegetable

四川棒菜 mandarin: Szz-chwan-jah-tsai; Cantonese: Say-chwoon-dza-choy)

This is a delightfully crunchy pickled vegetable, with a crisp and refreshing salty aftertaste, something like a good kosher pickle. It is regularly canned under the name Szechuen Preserved Vegetable or Preserved Szechwan Mustard, and may sometimes be found in Chinese markets sold loose in 2-foot high, brown-glazed crocks. The appearance of the vegetable—which is neither mustard nor kohlrabi as is often said, but rather the knobby root end of a leafy green cabbage—is somewhat forbidding. It is covered by a thick, red paste that smells as bad as it looks.

To use the preserved vegetable, rinse off the paste under cool running water, rubbing the knobby contours to clean them thoroughly. Then shred or mince as the recipe requires. Unused knobs should be stored unwashed in an airtight bottle, in a cool place or in the refrigerator, away from light, heat and moisture. Wash just before using. It will keep indefinitely, which is after all the raison d’être of a preserved vegetable.

If you cannot find the sort sold loose in the crock, which is both tender and crisp, a good canned brand is what Companion calls Preserved Szechwan Mustard.