Featuring crispy, tangy Curtido cabbage slaw.
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Spicy Curtido (Salvadoran Cabbage Slaw)

Pair your meats with Spicy Curtido Cabbage slaw, a mix of crisp cabbage, carrots, onion, and fiery chiles, bathed in a tangy pickle brine. This Salvadoran slaw is commonly served with cheesy pupusas and pairs well with burritos, tacos, or anything that needs a tangy crunch.

Whether you’re looking for a refreshing side dish, a zesty topping, or a flavorful condiment, spicy curtido cabbage slaw is the perfect recipe to try.

This quick pickled cabbage recipe is ideal for preparing curtido without having to ferment, cutting down on prep time. Slice the vegetables, add the brine, and rest in the fridge briefly. Before you know it, grilled meats and stuffed burritos will be calling for a side of crispy curtido.

Related: Try some of our other favorite pickled recipes such as Quick Pickled Red Onions, Smoked Pickled Jalapenos, or even Pickled Mustard Seeds.

Pair this quick pickled curtido recipe with authentic pupusas.

Curtido: A Salvadoran Cabbage Slaw

Quick pickled cabbage is not the original, authentic recipe for Curtido. The authentic recipe has a colorful history involving multiple cultures, which is quite interesting to learn about.

Curtido has roots in the culinary techniques of the indigenous people of El Salvador. Fermentation was a common practice among the tribes, preserving food before refrigeration. 

The recipe changed over time as new ingredients, such as carrots and cabbage, were brought over by the colonizers. Vinegar was introduced, creating the tangy flavor profile through the fermentation process. 

The slaw is lightly fermented by preserving the cabbage mixture in a vinegar brine. This vinegar brine, combined with room temperature, allows the curtido to ferment gradually, resulting in a tangy, refreshing slaw.

Flavors can vary depending on the region, ranging from spicer to sweeter. Some varieties are quickly pickled, rather than fermented for extended periods. Just like kimchi or sauerkraut, there are many ways to create this delicious Salvadorian slaw.

This quick pickled curtido recipe is best the next day after preparation.

Quick Pickled Cabbage: Ready by Next Day

If you’re looking to enjoy curtido and save time, this recipe for quick pickling is for you.

Let’s clarify that this curtido recipe is not fermented. It’s important to know the difference:
Fermenting = Pickling, but Pickling ≠ Fermenting

Sauerkraut and other fermented foods are typically fermented using lactic acid bacteria, which can occur naturally using salt (sometimes also sugar), along with time.

Quick pickling involves the addition of vinegar which uses acetic acid, rather than lactic acid generated from fermentation.

Vinegar Choices With Quick Pickling

Fermented foods tend to have a more complex, sometimes funky flavor profile. Quick pickling leans more towards brighter, tangy flavors.

Experiment with different types of vinegar, which will change the flavor.

I recommend using white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, or Champagne vinegar for pickling. Distilled white vinegar has a harsher flavor, tasting very acidic on its own. You can mix distilled white vinegar with the others to cut down the flavor

Related: Try making the Sweet and Spicy Pickles, another great recipe that uses quick pickling.

Preparing This Curtido Recipe

Let’s dive into the preparation for this spicy curtido cabbage slaw. This is extremely simple to prepare but requires a little bit of knife work.

Key Ingredients

This curtido recipe is pretty simple, using only a few ingredients:

  • Green Cabbage – Look for a cabbage with tightly wrapped leaves that feels heavy.
  • Carrots – Medium-sized carrots work well, they have a slightly sweeter flavor than larger ones.
  • Onion – Red, white, or sweet onions can be used for this recipe.
  • Jalapeno – This is optional, but it’s key for making this curtido recipe slightly spicy. Use a poblano if you’re seeking more flavor and less heat.
  • Vinegar – Read the above section for different vinegar recommendations.
  • Dried Oregano – Use either Mexican oregano or traditional dried oregano. They each have slightly different flavors, so just be aware.
  • Salt – Pickling can use Kosher salt, sea salt, or pickling salt. Kosher salt is most commonly used with grilling and BBQ, which is why it was chosen for this recipe. You’ll need to test the other salts with this recipe if you swap them.
  • Water – Combining water with vinegar ensures that the pickle brine isn’t too acidic, and balances out the flavors.
Pour the hot brine over the vegetables before transferring to a clean mason jar.

Step 1: Slice and Dice the Vegetables

Slice all the green cabbage, onion, and jalapenos, making sure they aren’t too thin. This is key, otherwise, the curtido will not be nearly as crispy.

Use the large holes with a box grater for the carrot. Alternatively, you may use the mandolin to slice and julienne the carrots if you want them to be crispier.

Taste the jalapeno pepper before adding it to the curtido. As you know, the spiciness can vary greatly.

Recommended Equipment

Slicing takes some work, but there are a few tools that will make this recipe much easier. Plus, they are good tools to have in the kitchen for many other recipes.

  • Mandolin slicer – Perfect for slicing up a large amount of cabbage and onion for this recipe.
  • Box grater with large holes – Ideal for shredding the carrots.

Step 2: Pour Boiling Water Over Cabbage

Set the cabbage in a strainer and pour about 4 cups of boiling water over it. Drain it well.

Doing so will parboil the cabbage, allowing it to absorb the pickle brine much more while also softening it just enough that it’s more pleasant to chew.

Quick pickled cabbage is ready the next day, so you don't have to wait very long.

Step 3: Mix Everything with Brine

Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl along with the onion, jalapeno, oregano, and salt. Toss to combine all of the ingredients.

Pour the water and vinegar over the vegetables and toss them well.

Step 4: Pack in Mason Jars and Cool

Stuff the curtido into cleaned mason jars, pressing down to remove as many air gaps as possible. Pour in the brine and make sure that the vegetables are completely submerged.

This recipe makes enough for 2 large mason jars, which you’ll want because you’ll crush through all of this.

Store the spicy curtido in the fridge for at least 2 hours, overnight is optimal. The cabbage slaw will be more flavorful the longer it sits.

What do you do with Curtido?

This tangy quick pickled cabbage slaw should be served alongside plenty of grills meats or any other type of rich food. Just like a regular vinegar coleslaw, you can use it to elevate your tacos, sandwiches, salads, burritos… and of course traditional pupusas.

Try pairing it with any of these incredibly tasty meals:

What’s the difference between curtido and sauerkraut?

Curtido and sauerkraut are traditionally both fermented cabbage dishes but have key differences with the ingredients. Sauerkraut is a German dish made solely with cabbage, undergoing a longer fermentation which produces a tangy, sour flavor. Curtido uses additional vegetables, such as carrots and onions, using a shorter fermentation process which creates a mild tangy flavor.

Flavors will be wildly different between curtido and sauerkraut, given the different ingredients and variance with fermentation times.

It’s important to note that this quick pickled curtido recipe, is not fermented in the same way as sauerkraut.

Quick Pickled Curtido Recipe

Pile up this spicy slaw on sandwiches. In fact, try pairing it with smoked pastrami and you’ll thank me later. At Chiles and Smoke, we’re here to bring people together with bold flavors, using spice and flames to ignite the food and friendships.

If you try this recipe, please consider leaving an honest review below. You can also find more content by following Chiles and Smoke on InstagramYouTube, and Facebook.

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Featuring crispy, tangy Curtido cabbage slaw.

Spicy Curtido Cabbage Slaw

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Pair your meats with Spicy Curtido Cabbage slaw, a mix of crisp cabbage, carrots, onion, and fiery chiles, bathed in a tangy pickle brine. This Salvadoran slaw is commonly served with cheesy pupusas and pairs well with burritos, tacos, or anything that needs a tangy crunch.

  • Total Time: 12 minutes
  • Yield: About 10 cups 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 small green cabbage, finely shredded (about 8 cups)
  • 2 medium carrots, grated (use box grater, large holes)
  • 1/2 white, sweet, or red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno, julienned
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water

Instructions

  1. Shred the vegetables and grate the carrots. Make sure everything is evenly sliced, not too thin, so they remain crispy after pickling.
  2. Parcook the cabbage with hot water. Place the shredded cabbage in a large strainer. Warm about 3 cups of water until very hot, almost boiling. Pour the hot water over the cabbage slowly and it will start to shrink as it’s being cooked. Drain the cabbage well.
  3. Combine the ingredients. Add the cabbage to a large bowl along with the grated carrots, onion, jalapeno, oregano, and salt. Toss well to mix everything. Pour in the vinegar and water, tossing once again to coat everything.
  4. Transfer the ingredients to glass jars. Stuff the curtido into mason jars and press down firmly. Pour in the brine and make sure the vegetables are completely submerged.
  5. Cover the jars and store in the fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. This will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks.

Notes

  • Use a mandolin slicer to shred the cabbage and slice the onions, this will save time and create consistent slices.
  • Feel free to swap out the vinegar with other flavors, such as rice vinegar or white wine vinegar.
  • Make sure you taste the jalapeno for spiciness before using it.
  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 minutes
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Pickling
  • Cuisine: Side Dish
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