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Pickled Cabbage and Daikon

Dikon vegetable and cabbage, after pickling, in the center of a white plate on a brown background, with a pair of deep red chopsticks across the top of the plate.

Not your every day grocery store pickles! Making fermented food at home is easy once you have the supplies. Get your mason jars ready! Photo by Imei Hsu.

Maybe I am becoming nostalgic as time goes on. I miss the days when I walked through the door of our unlocked home in San Jose, CA after walking home from school, and took in the smells of roasting meats and Chinese dumplings wafting through the Spanish-styled home on Goldfield Drive.

Mom hadn’t gone back to work quite yet; she would later take on a job in the accounting department of a large hospital in the area, so for awhile, Mom was the Domestic Engineer that is responsible for the green and white floral wallpaper that still decorates the front hallway of this home today (or least, the time I visited in 2012 and knocked on the door to ask permission to take a look around).

A particularly familiar smell of my wistful childhood memories is Mom’s jars of Chinese-style fermented cabbage and daikon vegetable. She would boil several glass jars, usually recycled dill pickle jars and their lids, and then fill them up with these vegetables after stirring in what looked to me like very little liquid, salt, vinegar, and spices. Using a pair of chopsticks, Mom rotated the chopped vegetables in the marinade over several days, scolding my father to not help himself to them before they were done.

When you’re a child, two weeks feels like forever and a day to wait; sometimes, Mom fermented a jar for almost a month before she began doling pieces out to us with our dinner meal.

My interest in pickling vegetables began this year when I developed a strong reaction to alliums (garlic, onions, shallots, leeks). When I could no longer obtain a source of fermented food like pickles from the grocery store, I realized that I needed to make my own. And of course, I thought about Mom’s pickled vegetables, with their crunch as well as the soothing results of a happy gut. I always remembered how fermented foods helped my gut maintain a healthy balance of gut flora needed to properly digest food.

It was time to call on Mom to see if she could write a recipe for something she had done from scratch without ever measuring a thing.

The first thing I did was ask if Mom could recall if she had ever used a written recipe, such as the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook that was very popular in the 1970’s. There are many tales of people publishing what they thought was a family recipe, only to find out that Granny or Aunt LaRue “borrowed” it ingredient for ingredient from a previously published source.

Quizzing Mom thoroughly, Mom has said she learned how to prepare pickled vegetables from her home in Taiwan, so we’re pretty safe in saying that Mom’s recipe is her own. Both of my grandmothers have departed this earth, and neither of them were known to have used cookbooks to prepare food. It’s more traditional to hand down recipes not in written form, but by simply being in the kitchen and repeating the process of preparing a food multiple times across the years.

So you can understand that Mom struggled with emailing me the best recipe she could consider usable, and then I tried it myself, readjusting the amounts to taste.

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white plate, red chopsticks, seven slender pieces of white daikon root with red pepper flakes in the center of a white plate

Mom’s Pickled Cabbage and Daikon

  • Author: Imei Hsu
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 days
  • Total Time: 240 hours 20 minutes
  • Yield: 20+ servings


Add fermented food into your diet easily with homemade daikon and cabbage. This easy recipe can be made with minimal equipment, sterilized mason jars, and simple ingredients.


1/2 cabbage (cut or shredded by hand)
1 to 1-1/2 large daikon, knife chopped into 2-3 inch long chunks
Make the following for each jar (one cabbage, one daikon):
1-1/2 to 2 Tbsp salt (it is very salty at 2 Tbsp, but that is my palate)
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1/2  Tbsp pepper corns
1/3 cup white vinegar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 – 1/2 Tbsp red pepper flakes (omit if sensitive to nightshades; I found some that do not have alliums, which are sold in Whole Foods and also Mexican grocery stores)
1/4 cup raw sugar (omit if you are on a low-sugar diet)


You will need the following:
1 large pot for boiling and sterilizing jars and lids
2 large pickling glass jars, preferably mason jars with wide-mouth lids
Mix all above ingredients into two large salad bowls, one batch for each type of vegetable. Toss gently every two  hours to make sure the vegetables are coated evenly. Leave at room temperature for the first half day and night; you can cover it with plastic wrap or a lid. Transfer the vegetables to the jars the next day.
Sterilize the jars and lids before transferring the vegetables from the large bowl to your pickling jars. You can set them in a warm oven on a baking sheet if you like. If the jars are larger than your pot, I use a kettle and boil extra water, and when the jars are boiled, I take them out to the sink using tongs and pour the boiling water from the kettle over the tops and sides of the jars, just to ensure that they are completely sterile.
I recommend that you fill the mason jar 3/4 full, leaving headspace simply because it is easier to shake and rotate the bottle gently to keep all the vegetable coated. You won’t need to open the jar every day to stir the vegetables. This is a bit different than the type of pickling where you submerge the items in liquid, such as when you make salty preserved duck eggs; there is no submerging.
After you have transferred the vegetables and their juice to the pickling jars, seal the jars tight, and refrigerate. Over time, the vegetables will release their juice as it combines with the vinegar. The more water the vegetable has, the more juice you will see. I place the jars on their sides, and simply give each jar a spin or two each day for two weeks.
You should not need to open the jars to “off gas” the jar; the fermentation is not so quick as to necessitate this. However, if you added sugar, it will ferment more quickly, and I do recommend that you open the jar and let out the air. Failure to do this may make your mason jar lid very difficult to remove.
On the 14th day, you are ready to  sample the vegetable to see if it’s ready.  The vegetable will have taken on a light beige appearance, much like you would see with a jar of sauerkraut from the store.
I sampled my first jars at Day 10, and they were on the cusp of ready-to-eat, so it’s quite possible that by Day 12, a medium sized batch is ready!
Close up of cabbage and daikon vegetable after pickling, on a white plate.

Once you make these at home, you will be so spoiled, you’ll never want to buy the store-bought stuff again. Photo by Imei Hsu

In terms of eating, I added about six pieces of fermented food (1/2 cabbage, 1/2 daikon) to my dinner across one week, and almost immediately I noticed a positive difference in my gut health and digestion. As a person who can’t take probiotics through yogurt, and I react rather violently to lactobacilli in pill form, fermented pickles is a much more natural way to help keep my gut flora in balance.

Happy Eating!

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