Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Soy Braised Cabbage

I made this dish for the first time ever as part of lunch for the preschoolers.  Turns out my terrible habit of preparing new dishes when making dinner for company extends to cooking food for a preschool.  In my defense what was the worst that would happen if the dish was not good?  Several preschoolers would say they hate cabbage, wait, they said that before I cooked it for them.  Hah, one of the rare instances of recipe roulette where a bad outcome would just maintain the status quo.  I had this beautiful, organic, local red cabbage that was donated and I needed a way to prepare it.  I could have made Creamy Red Cabbage with Fennel and Mustard Seed, but I thought it would really lose something without the wine.

I found a recipe for Red Cooked Cabbage in Andrea Chesman's The Garden Vegetable Cookbook and while it did call for sherry, I was not worried about leaving out a single tablespoon.  (If you want a copy of this cookbook I would recommend buying Serving up the Harvest instead.  It is the paperback version and is still in print, instead of the original title which is out of print, and expensive).  The combination of soy sauce and rice vinegar reminded me of some of my favorite tricks for vegetables so I put it on the next days menu.  At first I could not find the soy sauce at work so I used bragg's liquid amino acids with a touch of soy sauce added later when someone told me it was in the fridge (who stores soy sauce in the fridge?)  The final dish was even better then I was imagining, with a sweetness from the slow cooking, savory notes from the soy sauce and a complexity that seemed beyond the simple list of ingredients.  It was good enough that I decided to make it again that night for dinner at home.

When I made it for dinner I added the dry sherry originally called for in the recipe and I noticed five spice powder I should have used in the list of ingredients or at the very least I should have noticed I was omitting it.  When making it home I used star anise in place of the five spice powder I already knew would overpower the simple dish.  My conclusion is leave out the sherry and any spices beyond pepper.  The complexity of the dish comes from the subtle sweetness of the braised cabbage being complimented by the soys salty unami and the richness of the sesame oil.  The sherry and spices just detract from the dishes balance.  If I had served it with the sherry and spices at work not only would I have lost my job for serving alcohol in the preschool but it wouldn't have been worth it, because none of the children would have eaten it.

Soy Braised Cabbage (also called red cooked cabbage)

3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small cabbage, red or green, thinly sliced (about 8 cups)
1/2 cup water or broth
1/3 cup braggs liquid amino acids (or substitute soy sauce)
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dark Sesame Oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Saute the cabbage in the oil until it is wilted and everything is coated in oil.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.  Cover the pot and lower the heat to a gentle simmer.  Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When done the cabbage should be very tender and well flavored.

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