Jrouk Spey (Cambodian Pickled Mustard Greens)


There are countless versions of this dish across Asia. In Cambodia, there is Jrouk Spey. In Vietnam there’s Dua Chua. In Thailand there’s Pak Gard Dong. We could go on and on.

Although the specific mustard plant varieties one finds more readily in the US differ from those in Cambodia and Southeast Asia, the flavor is very comparable. If you have access to an International or Asian market, you can look for Gai Choi or ask about Chinese mustard. I just grow and use Southern Mustard and any mustard plant variety will work with this recipe.

Jrouk Spey has a sharp, savory mustard flavor – a bit like horseradish – and, despite the curing process, maintains a nice crispness.

What to eat it on or with? Like kimchi in Korea, it is a common side dish but also used to accompany many other foods. It can be added to soups, eaten with fish and meat dishes, on sunny side up eggs, with rice or noodles, added to stir fries, and more.

Unlike what we think of as “pickled” veggies in the US (usually with a strong vinegar concentration), these pickled mustard recipes from across Asia have many variations. Some may or may not include vinegar, and if so it is generally a small amount (it will speed up the readiness time by breaking down the greens more quickly). Some recipes call for cooling the water to lukewarm or room temps before immersing the veggies, which results in fermented mustard greens.

Other recipes call for pouring the brine at boiling temps while others suggest waiting until the water is hot but touchable. Neither approach will usually result in fermentation, since the safe temperature for lactobacillus to survive will have been surpassed, though it has happened to me (no complaints about that).

The recipe today is the Cambodian style, which involves pouring boiling brine over the mustard greens. No garlic, no vinegar. The brine consists of water, salt, sugar, and is also made cloudy by the addition of rice (which is removed from the brine at pouring but starches remain).

Due to the brine’s heat, although the veggies should still be fully submerged and will sit at room temperature for 5-6 days, the heat will kill the lactobacillus present on the greens and thereby prevent fermentation (you may observe a few bubbles but nothing very vigorous). Due to this process, we can say it’s salt pickled, preserved, or cured, but not fermented.

On the other hand, if you do want to go the fermentation route, simply follow all the instructions here but allow the brine to cool to room temperature before pouring it over the veggies.

The main stem of the plant is often considered the prized component in this dish. I grow my mustard plants and usually use just the leaves since the plants will continue growing leaves for a long season of several months. Some consider the leaves the delicacy so it’s truly up to your preferences.

This recipe is for a half gallon jar packed with mustard greens. (This is an ideally shaped jar for this recipe but any half gallon will do.)

Trimming the leaves: It is up to you how to cut the leaves. Cutting into ~2″ square pieces will allow you to easily fit all the leaves into the jar. If you’d like to keep the leaves whole, which is what I have done in preparing this recipe (the featured photo), I recommend cutting off the stem base from the leaves so that they’re more flexible and can be layered in without crushing them. I’ll be using these whole leaves to make Greek-style Dolmas (which normally use grape leaves).

The leaves cut into pieces

You will need:

  • Half gallon jar with metal or plastic lid
  • Fine mesh strainer (small)
  • Medium/small saucepan and stirring spoon
  • 1-2 fermentation weights (advised to keep veggies submerged); 20% OFF DISCOUNT CODE: P4P3KFC5)
  • If fermenting: advised to use a fermentation airlock lid
  • Large bowl and icewater (optional, to firm up the greens)


  • 1.5 – 2 lbs. mustard leaves (see above for guidance on trimming)
  • 5 cups filtered or distilled water
  • 1/4 cup uncooked jasmine rice
  • 2 TBS salt
  • 1.5 TBS sugar
  • Optional: chopped hot chili peppers or flakes to taste


1.) Cut the mustard greens according to one of the methods described above. As desired, place then the greens in a large bowl of icewater for 30-45 minutes to firm them up (also helps them maintain more crunch through the pickling process).

2.) While the leaves soak, combine the water, rice, salt, sugar (and optional hot pepper) in the saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved.

3.) Once boiling, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes (the rice is only cooked to al dente).

4.) Meanwhile, shake the leaves free of water and pack them into the jar. Cover the jar with the fine mesh strainer, so as to prevent the rice from entering the jar when pouring the brine.

5.) Regular version: Return the water to a boil, then immediately pour it into the jar. To ensure the greens stay submerged, you can place a fermentation weight over them. Allow to sit at room temp for ~4-6 days (it is done when the color is fully blanched).

Fermented version: Allow the water to cool to room temp before pouring over the greens. Once cooled, pour the brine over the greens in the jar. (Again, make sure to use the strainer so the rice is kept out.) Apply a fermentation weight and airlock lid (or just remember to burp the jar each day). It is ready to eat in 5-6 days. Unlike the salt-cured version above, this method will yield a longer shelf life due to the probiotic bacteria which will produce an increasingly acidic environment and stave off any harmful bacteria.


Here are some dolmas – usually translated as stuffed grape leaves – I made using both the traditional grape leaves and also several with the “jrouk spey” cured mustard leaves. The flavor of the jrouk spey was surely the winner! My dolma recipe, by the way, will be available in a cookbook I’ll release in 2021, stay tuned!

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  1. Awesome explanation. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Attempting this… I see different recipes for this which blanche the greens for 30 seconds in the rice water then immediately thrown into ice water. Any reason you skip this step? I also see some recipes for this call for 7-14 days before it’s ready to be put into the fridge. Will keeping it out longer harm the process?

    • Sorry just seeing this. Good question. “Shocking” the greens in ice water is not bad to do, then allow the rice water to cool before using as the pickling medium. I find comparable results with my method which is a little streamlined but there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Keeping the greens out longer than I advised could lead to more accelerated softening but isn’t otherwise a problem.


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