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Crisp stir-fry pairs cabbage, hot chiles

Tipping the produce-section scale at more than 4 pounds, the biggest cabbage I’d seen since last winter confirmed my plans to make sauerkraut.

I’d been waiting on sizable heads to hit my local grocery store — or farmers market — for at least a month. Once the cooler weather arrives, and our mealtimes rely more on meat, root vegetables and winter squash, I crave the tart contrast and palate cleansing power of sauerkraut. Cooler room temperatures also aid my — admittedly still amateur — efforts, chronicled in a 2018 blog post.

But there’s so much to love about cabbage, even for cooks who don’t deal in fermentation. I keep cabbage — albeit smaller heads — on hand practically all year. Their hardy leaves hold up in the refrigerator for at least a month, making them a staple for households who grocery shop infrequently.

Cabbage provides more fiber than lettuce as a salad, playing a critical role in Best Ever Chinese Chicken Salad, one of my favorite winter-into-spring recipes. I prefer cabbage’s crunch on tacos over lettuce that’s overwhelmed by the other fillings. And as long as I’ve got cabbage, I can always mix up a quick coleslaw to complement a dinner of fish sticks and oven fries for my kids.

And let’s not forget cabbage’s appeal in stir-fry of all kinds. This one from the Chicago Tribune keeps it simple with just a garnish of cilantro and roasted peanuts for still-crisp cabbage. Another kind of “crisp” — Sichuan cuisine’s chile crisp — provides the main seasoning, although spicy Moroccan harissa, Indonesian samba oelek or Chinese black bean garlic paste can stand in.

My pantry usually boasts all three of those alternatives, but I haven’t seen chile crisp at my locally owned grocery store. A trip to Medford’s Asia Grocery Market, near Winco, would be the most likely location to track down this condiment of chiles fried with garlic. A popular brand is Lao Gan Ma, which also incorporates roasted soybeans.

Whatever your tolerance for spice, this dish will help take off the chill and rejuvenate your menus.

Tribune News Service photo

Cabbage and Chile Crisp Stir-Fry

1 small head (about 2 pounds) savoy or green cabbage or napa cabbage

1/4 cup spicy chile crisp or Chinese black bean garlic sauce or sambal olek or harissa

1 tablespoon each: soy sauce, unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

4 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tablespoons vegetable oil for high heat cooking (not olive oil)

Chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup chopped roasted salted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

Cooked jasmine rice, for serving (optional)

Cut the cabbage in half and remove core. Cut into quarters. Cut each quarter into large chunks. You will have about 8 generous cups. In a small dish, mix the chile crisp, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and garlic.

Heat a very large deep, nonstick skillet (or use 2 smaller skillets) over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Add the vegetable oil and cabbage. Using a splatter guard, cook, stirring often, until cabbage is bright green and crisp-tender, for 6 to 8 minutes. (Napa cabbage will cook fastest; green cabbage will take longest. Taste a piece to determine texture you’ll enjoy.)

Stir in the chile crisp mixture. Cook and stir to coat cabbage well, for about 1 minute. Transfer to a large serving platter. Sprinkle with the cilantro and peanuts, if using. Serve with the rice, if you like.

Makes 4 servings.