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Homemade Pickled Mustard Greens

Recently, I featured some commercially produced Pickled Mustard Greens in a foodstuff post and subsequently used the product in some follow up recipe experiments. Now, since our greenhouse harvest is now complete (meager though it was), I am able to do up a batch of the homemade variety. I have not made pickles using mustard before but the technique I will be using here is largely the same as I use for other vegetables…

This was the prize of the crop. It’s not very large, by any means, but it is a very pretty plant. There were only a couple of others even approaching this size, while the rest were pretty darn small.

And this is the entire yield… I would have liked to have enough to do a dish or two using fresh leaves but I have decided to use the whole lot to make pickles.

The Method

The first step is to salt the greens to wilt them and draw out some of the water. Most recipes will tell you to cut the plants in half so as to work the salt in well but, while this is definitely necessary with big plants where the stems are densely packed near the base, my plants are small and the stems quite far apart so I won’t bother with that.

Simply sprinkle salt liberally over the plants making sure it gets down into the crevice between the leaves and (very gently) massage it in a little. The precise amount of salt is not critical as most will be washed away anyway, but, for your reference, I used a couple of tablespoons for the current amount of mustard greens.

By the way, you can use common table salt if that’s all you have but iodized salt can darken pickles unattractively so it is better to use Pickling salt, Kosher salt, or indeed any variety that does not have iodine added.

Once you have done this, put the greens in a suitable container and leave them sit for a minimum of 3 hours (overnight is just fine). During this process, it is a good idea to turn the greens over in the container a few times as the water is drawn out and a brine accumulates at the bottom.

Here is what the greens look like after 4 hours. They have wilted and softened considerably and, although it is not easy to see in the picture, a fair amount of liquid has been thrown off.

While the greens are wilting, you can make the brine for the actual pickling. A good basic recipe for a suitable brine is about 1 ½ tablespoons of salt (non-iodized) per liter or quart of water. Some recipes call for other ingredients for additional flavoring (onion, chili, or turmeric, for example) but I am keeping mine fairly plain. Another addition I have read about, but not tried, is to use rice cooking water to make the brine, or else add some rice flour, as the starch provides a little ‘fodder’ for the micro-organisms as they do the job of pickling. Just plain brine will work (albeit a bit more slowly) but I am going to add a little sugar as this will also provide a hint of sweetness. My recipe for this experiment is as follows:

  • 2 quarts water
  • 3 tablespoons Salt;
  • 2 tablespoons Sugar;

That’s it. Two quarts is more than I need (one might just do it here) but it is a nuisance discovering you don’t have enough and have to make extra so I am saving myself that annoyance. Most recipes tell you to put all the ingredients in a pot, let it come to a boil so that the salt (and sugar) dissolves, then cool before using. I find it simpler to dissolve the ingredients in a pint or so of boiling water from the kettle and then add cold water to make up the required volume.

When you are ready, rinse the greens quickly to remove the excess salt and place them into a container sufficient to hold them submerged under the brine. Pour in the brine and cover. If you like, you can place a small dish of piece of plastic wrap over the top of the brine to ensure the greens do, in fact, stay completely below the surface. Now, set the container aside in a safe place (not the refrigerator) to pickle.

The length of time for pickling will depend on a number of factors but temperature is the most significant. In really warm temperatures, the process may take only a couple of days, but in a really cool location a week may be required. I left mine in a kitchen cabinet in temperatures where butter remains fairly firm and hard to spread and after 4 days, the pickle looks like you see above.

Basically, if your pickling process is working nicely, you should see the greens fade and become more yellowish in color. The liquid will become a bit cloudy and begin to take on a sour smell. Occasionally, a whitish bloom will accumulate at the surface and you can simply skim this off, but if off flavors or aromas develop you may have caught a bad yeast or bacteria and have to begin again. Luckily, that hasn’t happened thus far but I think my batch needs another day of pickling…

If you are going to eat your pickle in very short order, you could simply leave it in the brine and take out what you need. For longer storage, however, it is best to remove the greens and pack them in a container (without rinsing them). Some suggest putting individual portions in plastic bags and sealing them but I am putting the whole batch in a plastic ‘tupperware’ sort of container. Not very elegant, by any means, but it should do the trick.

By the way… I probably should have left these in the brine for longer but I am gearing up to travel in a few days and, with the work I currently have on my plate, I won’t really have time to attend to very many kitchen projects before I am gone. Really, the mustard should be a lot more brownish or yellowish green and have less emerald green still showing but I am hoping the pickling might continue in the fridge while I am away.

I tasted the pickle before putting it in the fridge and I have to say the result was not that bad for my first attempt. The texture was a bit fibrous and stringy (which could by resolved by using larger plants, I think) and there was also a slight hint of toasted wood that I have not encountered before. I will admit that I have not quite reached the quality of some of the commercial versions I have tried but, all in all, I am pretty pleased with the result…


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love pickled vegetables, but have not considered pickling greens. I tend to get a lot in our CSA box, so I’ll give this a try. Thanks for the idea!

    November 7, 2012
    • There’s lots of recipes out there. My wife made Kimchi with radish greens last year. They were good… very spicy hot though 🙂

      November 7, 2012
  2. This sounds so good, I’m glad you’ve given us photos and details, I would panic around the stage where the liquid gets cloudy:) xx

    November 7, 2012
    • A bit of cloudiness is fine …. any whitish scum at the top can be skimmed away and, if you like, you can add a teaspoon or so of vinegar to prevent it from recurring. I read that somewhere but I’ve not needed to do it.

      November 7, 2012
  3. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. Not planning to pickle any time soon, but this post will certainly be useful when I do with so much practical advise!

    November 7, 2012
  4. I think of you as a food adventurer! I do appreciate the photos and step by steps! I don’t have the patience that you do, so I can’t see myself following through. But I love the whole idea…you never know! 🙂

    November 10, 2012
  5. Dana #

    Would it be okay to use Bok Choy instead?

    June 11, 2013
    • Absolutely. The Shanghai variety would an especially good substitute!

      June 11, 2013
  6. Jody #

    Those are baby bok choi in the asian markets, the best green to pickle is Chinese large head mustard greens. I have never seen bok choi pickled.

    October 15, 2013

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