Fermented Curtido (Salvadoran Cabbage Slaw)

Regular readers should know I am a fan of all sorts of fermented things. Many of them feature cabbage as a main ingredient, like sauerkraut or kimchi. The last couple of years I’ve become quite fond of a mixed kraut called Curtido. It’s tart and flavorful, and goes well with a lot of dishes. Not all Curtido recipes call for fermenting, and some use vinegar instead to give the tart flavor.  So today I want to share my version and how I make it. I think fermenting gives it a flavor that really can’t be duplicated by vinegar, and it also adds probiotic bacteria that are good for your gut.

Fermented Curtido

Fermented Curtido

Curtido is a dish from El Salvador that I think of as fermented slaw. It has cabbage, carrots and onions like many slaws do, but it has the added zing of a hot pepper (or two). And it is usually seasoned with oregano. Some recipes also call for ground cumin, but I tried it in one batch and I thought it overpowered the other flavors. You can use any hot pepper in the recipe, and both green and red ones work well. Or you can even omit the hot pepper for a non-spicy version. I’ve even made a batch using diced sweet pepper, and it was tasty and colorful too.

making curtido

making curtido

As with sauerkraut, you can make this in a crock or in a jar. I generally use jars for my fermented veggies, since they are inexpensive and easy to find. I like wide mouth jars because I find it’s easier to get the veggies in and the finished product out. The quantities for this recipe are sized to fill a quart jar, though they can easily be scaled up or down for another size.

cutting the cabbage

cutting the cabbage

You can vary the proportion of ingredients if you like, using more carrots and onions and less cabbage. It takes a bit less than 2 pounds (or 900 grams) of veggies to fill a quart jar and leave a little headspace. The space is needed because the mixture will bubble up and expand the first few days as the fermentation gets going. I usually sit the jar on a small plate to catch any liquid that might come out of the jar during that period. One of the outer cabbage leaves makes a good ‘topper’ to cover the mix and help keep it submerged under the brine. I don’t use special airlocks, but I do like plastic lids since the metal ones corrode quickly with the acidic conditions of the fermented food and can be difficult to remove.

jar of curtido

jar of curtido

The Curtido makes a great side dish for many meals. In El Salvador it is traditionally served with pupusas,  a thick corn tortilla with a savory filling. At Happy Acres, I often serve it with tacos or enchiladas. The crunchy, tart and mildly spicy curtido complement a variety of cuisines, and even makes a tasty and healthy sandwich topping.

For more information on lacto-fermentating vegetables, I can recommend a couple of books I use for reference on the subject. One is Ferment Your Vegetables by Amanda Feifer. The other book is Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten K. and Christopher Shockey. Both address the basics of fermenting vegetables at home, and also have a lot of useful recipes, many of which I have tried. Both will help to make sure your fermentation projects are successful, as well as to give you ideas.

Fermented Curtido Print This Recipe Print This Recipe
(adapted from several recipes)

1 3/4 lbs cabbage, thinly sliced
1 carrot, sliced or grated
1/4 cup onion chopped
1 clove garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno pepper minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 heaping tbsp sea salt (about 18 grams)

1. Combine cabbage, carrot, onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper and oregano in large non-reactive bowl.

2. Add salt and mix thoroughly; cover and let stand for 45 minutes.

3. Pack mixture into quart jar, pressing down with hands or a wooden spoon to eliminate any air pockets. You should see some brine at the top, covering the veggies.

4. Top with one of the outer cabbage leaves, or with a glass pickle weight.

5. Cover jar with lid.

6. Let stand at room temperature for 7-14 days. Contents should begin bubbling after a few days as fermenting begins, then settle down after a few more days.

7. Start tasting after 5 or 6 days. When the curtido is pleasantly tart, refrigerate the jar. The curtido will keep for a year after refrigeration.

Servings: 8 (1/2 cup each)

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 32 calories, 1 calories from fat, <1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 730.1mg sodium, 292mg potassium, 7.4g carbohydrates, 2.8g fiber, 4.3g sugar, 1.6g protein, 54.9mg calcium, <1g saturated fat.

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3 Responses to Fermented Curtido (Salvadoran Cabbage Slaw)

  1. Ann Ryder says:

    Dave…thanks for your fermented slaw recipe. I’m drooling and will dig out my Japanese pickle press.

  2. annickhuet says:

    Thank you for your wonderful recipes. You communicate great joy in your cooking!

  3. Michelle says:

    I love to ferment veggies too and this looks like a winner. I have also been experimenting with making corn tortillas and I think Curtido would be a fabulous accompaniment to any taco filling in a fresh made tortilla. Thanks for the inspiration!

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