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What Is a Curtido?

By Tiffany Manley
Updated May 16, 2024
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A curtido, also known as curtido blanco or curtido rojo, is a fermented or pickled salad made primarily with cabbage. "Blanco" refers to the use of traditional green cabbage in the dish, and "rojo" refers to the use of beets together with the green cabbage. Many people liken curtido to dishes such as cole slaw, sauerkraut or kimchi, and it usually is found in Mexican and Central American cuisine, where it accompanies many dishes. According to many people, it goes especially well with the El Salvadoran dish papusas. A variety of ingredients are used to make curtido, such as cabbage, lemon juice, carrots, spices, vinegar and onions.

Pickling and fermentation are the two primary ways curtido is made. Fermentation is the traditional way to make the dish, but pickling provides similar results in less time. When the ingredients are allowed to ferment, sugars break down and leave behind a vinegary taste. In pickling, this taste is achieved by adding some type of vinegar in a pickling solution.

In an El Salvadoran version of this dish, shredded cabbage and carrots sit in hot water for about five minutes. They are then drained and pressed to remove as much water as possible. Vinegar, scallions, chili peppers and salt are added to the mixture of cabbage and carrots. After they are combined, the mixture is allowed to sit at room temperature for several minutes and then refrigerated until it is ready to use. Other versions use jalapeños or whey in addition to other ingredients or to replace them.

Curtido complements Mexican and Central American cooking well. Many of these dishes are rich and hearty, making the flavor and texture of curtido a great accompaniment. The vinegar in the dish gives it a tangy flavor, and the crunchy texture combines well with many dishes. Some people prefer to eat their curtido as a side dish, and others prefer to add it to beans, enchiladas or other dishes.

Another version of the dish is made in Guatemala and is known as curtido rojo. This version usually uses additional ingredients such as beets, green beans and red wine vinegar. Many people think this version tastes better when made using pickling brine instead of fermenting the dish.

Although it is used mainly in Mexican and Central American cuisine, curtido might also be used with a variety of other dishes. Many people enjoy it on things such as hot dogs or other dishes where cole slaw or other cabbage dishes might be used. Others prefer to eat it by itself as a snack.

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