This easy quick pickled red cabbage recipe makes piquant purple pickles to pep up any meal. These delightfully zesty refrigerator pickles are the perfect topping for tacos, a bright filling for burgers or a tangy accompaniment to toasted sandwiches. Whether you use this red cabbage quick pickle as a side, garnish or condiment, it’s very versatile and you can easily adapt the flavour to your palate.
If you liked our Mexican quick pickled onions recipe, you’re going to love this Mexican quick pickled red cabbage recipe for col roja en escabeche, col lombarda en escabeche or col morada en escabeche, all of which mean red cabbage or purple cabbage in escabeche. ‘Col’ is cabbage and ‘escabeche’ refers to the process of ‘cooking’ in an acidic marinade of vinegar and water to which salt, pepper, maybe sugar, and perhaps herbs and spices, such as bay leaves and oregano are added.
Despite sharing this recipe for quick pickled red cabbage because we’ve suggested it as a topping or accompaniment to many of our Mexican recipes, I left ‘Mexican’ off the title this time, because pickles have a long history of being made all over the world. An Egyptian pickles recipe doesn’t differ all that much from a Russian pickles recipe, which isn’t all that different to a Cambodian pickles recipe.
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Quick Pickled Red Cabbage Recipe for Piquant Purple Pickles to Pep Up Any Meal
My mother is Russian which means as a child I was munching on dill pickles and rollmops – pickled herring fillets – as soon as I could eat solids. Russians are pickle fanatics, which is why you see a dish of gherkins (pickled cucumbers) in almost every Russian recipe shot on our site. The only meal Russians don’t eat pickles with is dessert.
Perhaps that’s why cuisines with a pickling culture have always appealed to me, whether it’s Eastern European or Arabic or Southeast and East Asian cuisines, if there are pickles and preserves involved, I’m exploring it, cooking it and eating it.
So while I wanted to share this Mexican quick pickled red cabbage recipe so you could make these purple cabbage quick pickles as a side dish for some of the Mexican breakfast recipes we’ve been sharing, such as this chicken tinga taco recipe, you could really use these pickles with other dishes.
Red cabbage pickles can be found in Turkish cuisine, Lebanese cooking, Japanese food, Chinese cuisines, and more. Pickles are truly global.
While all quick pickles share a few ingredients – vinegar or citrus juice, salt and perhaps pepper, and maybe sugar – what sets pickles apart from one cuisine to the next is, firstly, the use of water (some pickling cultures use it, some don’t) and, secondly, the herbs and spices.
The differences can be subtle and overlapping, too. In a jar of Russian pickles there’s always dill, often garlic. Mexican pickles generally include Mexican oregano and a bay leaf. Middle Eastern pickles use bay leaves too and Egyptian pickles sometimes include dill and garlic. Pickles around the world are ‘same same but different’ as they like to say here in Southeast Asia.
I should say: I know I’m using red cabbage and purple cabbage interchangeably (sorry), but they’re really the same thing. Red cabbage is mostly used for what I’d personally call purple cabbage, but when fresh the cabbage is very much a dark purple, which transforms into a magenta when first pickled, then the longer it’s left to pickle it softens into a purplish-red.
I only have a few tips to making this quick pickled red cabbage recipe.
Tips to Making This Quick Pickled Red Cabbage Recipe
Just a few tips to making this quick pickled red cabbage recipe but they’re important tips. Firstly, make sure your jars are super clean. We like these vintage mason jars and clip-top Kilner jars, but we also save jars for recycling, which we use, sterilising them before we pickle.
When it comes to vinegar, the key ingredient, we recommend a cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar, for this quick pickled red cabbage, or even a combination of the two. But the vinegar you choose should depend upon the cuisine you’re making. If you’re not serving these pickles with Mexican food, consider rice vinegar, if you’re making Asian food; wine vinegar, made from wine grapes, for any of the European cuisines; or malt vinegar, if you’re making english pickles.
Salt is also important. We recommend sea salt or Kosher salt. We don’t recommend fine grained table salt or iodised salt as this generally contains potassium iodide, dextrose and chemicals such as calcium silicate, sodium silicoaluminate, etc. If you’re not sure what kind of salt you have, stir a little in a glass of water. If the water is a bit cloudy, it’s table salt, and it will muddy your pickling liquid, while the potassium iodide can cause the pickles to darken in colour.
These quick pickles are called refrigerator pickles for a reason. They must be kept in the fridge. You can’t store these pickles in your pantry, as you can pickles that have gone through a bathing/canning process. And while you’re not storing them long-term, it’s still advisable to sterilise the jars.
‘Quick’ pickles also suggests that these pickles don’t last long, but how long exactly do quick pickles last? Some pickling experts recommend that this style of quick pickles should be used in a few days to a week maximum.
We live in a country where pickling is a key component of the culinary culture and locals are pickling all the time and I can assure you that many of my friends are not paying attention to how long pickles are sitting in their kitchen. One chef friend told me they’ll keep for several weeks, up to a month – or two.
The advice of health authorities regarding the longevity of refrigerator pickles tends to be to keep them anything from a few days to a few weeks, as long as they’re kept in a sterilised jar and they are in a refrigerator. Our current batch of quick pickled red cabbage is now a few weeks old and hasn’t gone bad and are still tasting delicious. But you should use your best judgement.
Lastly, if you don’t eat a lot of pickles and aren’t used to the tart taste, you could make the pickle brine in a separate jar, taste your pickle brine, and then adjust the seasoning before you add it to the jars. We all have different palates. While this is just perfect for me, Terence found it a little sharp. If you do, too, add a little more sugar.
But keep in mind when adjusting quick pickled red cabbage recipe that these pickles are not usually eaten on their own. They’re eaten with other flavours and textures to which they should provide contrast.
Quick Pickled Red Cabbage Recipe
- ½ head of red/purple cabbage - finely sliced
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 300 ml distilled white vinegar or cider vinegar
- 4-6 limes - juice only
- Divide the finely sliced red/purple cabbage between the jars.
- Pop a couple of bay leaves in each jar and then divide the salt, sugar and black peppercorns evenly between the two jars.
- Add the white vinegar or cider vinegar and squeeze in the juice of the limes into each jar.
- Taste the brine with a clean spoon and adjust seasoning as necessary then, with a new spoon, taste again. Alternatively, make your pickle brine in a separate jar, then, when you’re happy with the seasoning, pour the brine into the jars, screw the lids on, and shake each jar so everything is combined.
- The sliced red/purple cabbage should be covered but if not, top up with more lime juice or vinegar, so the cabbage is covered, shake again, then screw the lids on and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, although they’re best left overnight.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you made our quick pickled red cabbage recipe for piquant purple pickles as we’d love to know how they turned out for you.