Last Updated on August 11, 2021
Are you looking for ways to incorporate more veggies without spending more? Try this delicious Szechuan Pickle Style Broccoli Stalks. It’s a reinterpretation of Chinese style pickles, made with broccoli stalks that you may throw out but now you don’t have to. It’s savory & spicy, vegan and a great way to stretch your buck.
The Szechuan Pickles
Growing up in Japan, pickles had always appeared on the table accompanied with a bowl of rice. I remember my mother would send me to the produce truck that was going around the neighborhood to buy some pickled cucumbers and napa cabbage. Then, sometimes we would go to the basement floors of a department store a.k.a “depa-chika”[デパ地下.] What’s depa-chika? Just imagine a place where there are full underground floors of specialty food stores, fancy groceries, bakeries, wines and upscale food courts.
My mother loved one particular Chinese specialty store at depa-chika and she would always get the same two items. One is Shanghai style stir-fry noodles [上海焼きそば] and the other one was Szechuan pickles called “zha cai” [榨菜]. Don’t ask me about the authentic pronunciation but we, the Japanese, call it za-sai (pronounced like “zaa-sigh”.)
All I know is it tasted amazing and addictive but never knew what it actually was. Especially, since I don’t live there anymore, I haven’t had it for so long and almost forgot it existed.
It turned out that Zha cai is a pickled mustard plant stem. It’s salty, spicy, and has a distinctive smell to it, in a good way. It doesn’t smell strong like kimchi but it definitely has some sort of fermented smell. The color of the pickles is a combination of pale green and light brown. It has a good crunchy texture yet it’s tender as well.
I don’t know what the authentic one tastes like so I can only talk about the ones sold in Japan which is probably modified a bit to suit the Japanese palate. All I remember is, as mentioned above, it’s salty, spicy, and has the aroma similar to toasted sesame oil.
Since my take on this the zha cai style broccoli stalks is not fermented, it doesn’t have the same exact flavor, but it came pretty close enough to satisfy my zha cai cravings!
My version is seasoned with;
- Soy Sauce
- Toasted Sesame Oil
- Red Chili Pepper Flakes
- White Pepper
Chances are it’s totally not authentic, but it’s got the saltiness and spiciness, some aroma from white pepper. I’d say it was delicious! You could use la-yu (Japanese chili oil) instead of the combination of toasted sesame oil + red chili pepper flakes. Alternatively, use la-yu and modify the amount of toasted sesame oil + red chili pepper flakes.
After using the florets, a lot of people throw away the stalks. Don’t do it! They look really tough and inedible but they’re actually super delicious and you can make another meal or two with those potentially a garbage. After blanching, they actually resemble a similar texture to zha cai! It’s a perfect alternative and also low waste.
It takes a little prep work to make it edible. Cut off the very bottom part of the stem which is typically too tough to eat. Now, the stems towards the florets are mostly likely tender enough to eat without peeling. For the most part, peel the outer skin using a peeler or a knife. Once you peel, you’ll see the juicier and tender part of the flesh underneath the hard dry skin. Now, you know it’s ready to use!
Quick Pickled Cucumber with Ginger
Stir Fried Eggplant & Green Bell Pepper
Szechuan Pickle (Zha Cai) Style Broccoli Stalks
Blanching Broccoli Stalks
- 3-4 small broccoli stalks about 4 oz after trimmed off the outer skin and julienned
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/4 tsp red chili pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- A pinch of white pepper
- Toasted sesame seeds (garnish, optional)
- Boil water in a medium pot. Add broccoli stalks and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes until tender but crispiness is still remained. Use a colander and drain well.
- While the broccoli stalks are still hot, transfer to a medium prep bowl. Combine with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, red chili pepper flakes, salt, sugar, and a pinch of white pepper. Mix well and let it stand for 10-15 minutes.
- Serve immediately or let it cool down in the fridge. Consume within 2-3 days.
- It’s best served with Japanese white rice.
- Optionally, you can use la-yu (Japanese hot chili oil) to flavor the dish. When you use it, modify the amount of toasted sesame oil and red chili pepper flakes as la-yu is typically made with sesame oil and red chili pepper. Or simply replace toasted sesame oil + red chili pepper flakes with la-yu.