What are you having for dinner tonight? I bet you have some go-to meals that would pair nicely with this deep purple, earthy, phyto nutrient rich side dish. Sesame noodles and teriyaki salmon, Korean barbecue, barbecue tofu, stir fried rice with edamame, miso broiled eggplant and baked fish, simple chive omlette...all of these make for a perfect dinner. Hot or cold, sweet and sour cabbage is a beautiful and surprisingly light side dish that makes good use of a cool season staple.
In the winter, we're not spending much time wandering wistfully through the farmers' market planning our menus around the abundance of spring, summer, or fall produce. We've got to stock some sturdier fellows in the old ice box, for when we get snowed-in (crosses fingers). Cabbage is great because it resides contentedly in the fridge for weeks making it an ideal veggie to have on hand for those nights when your crisper is looking a little bare. Oh, and by the way, ask the folks in produce to cut you a half a cabbage if the suckers are behemoth. It can be hard for anyone to get through one of the larger heads of cabbage at times, and I usually find the produce department most obliging.
In the spirit of bringing more pantry wisdom to my readers and clients, I have been playing around with some dried mushrooms as well. Dried mushrooms are an ingredient I encourage because they can be easily used in so many ways, adding umami, texture, and depth to many dishes. See my recipe for Caramelized Onion and Porcini Gravy from Thanksgiving.
Using mushrooms gives this braised cabbage a heartier feel than many versions of this dish. It has a subtle sweet/sour flavor. Mushrooms are meaty without meat. For those who eat meat, try searing a little sausage or crisping slices of thick cut bacon in the pan before adding the other ingredients and braising. My point is: Eat loads of braised purple cabbage! It's good. Create your own style.
I aim to help everyone develop a sense of comfort with basic cooking techniques, flavor combinations and ingredients. With this foundation, a sense of how to create endless variations on a dish follows. Getting beyond the proficient execution of recipes, and into the wild blue yonder is what gives a cook true freedom to play, and space to be creative. It also helps when you have 30 minutes to whip up a dinner from whatever random items you have on hand.
Some other variations you may want to make to this recipe include omitting the star anise, if you are not a fan, or omitting/changing the mushrooms. You may want to change the flavor profile by exchanging the ginger for more garlic, using balsamic vinegar and a bay leaf or sprigs of thyme. The sweetness of the mirin can be substituted by a little maple or sugar. Go nuts.
Umeboshi "vinegar" is fun to have on hand. I used quotes because it is not a true vinegar, but rather the brine left from pickling Japanese ume plums. The pink color, and additional flavor come from the shiso leaves used when pickling the plums. This condiment has a bright, salty, fruity-tart flavor unlike anything else, and it is amazingly delicious. I always have a bottle on hand for sprinkling on rice, making beet, radish, or cucumber pickles, making dressings and sauces among other things. It is a truly excellent condiment for vegetables.
Sweet Sour Braised Cabbage with Dried Mushrooms
- 1/2 Oz paddy straw mushrooms
- 1/2 C hot water
- 3 C sliced red cabbage, 1/4 inch thick
- 1 C sliced onion, 1/4 inch thick
- 1 Medium clove garlic, sliced
- 1-2 Whole star anise
- 1/2 Inch ginger, julienne
- 1/4 C mirin
- 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp umeboshi vinegar
- 1/4 Tsp toasted sesame oil to finish (optional)
Prep the mushrooms by soaking them in 1/2 C hot water for about 20 minutes. Squeeze the mushrooms and reserve the soaking liquid, pouring the liquid into another container and off of any grit that has settled to the bottom.
In a pan, pot, or dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, combine the cabbage, onion, garlic, star anise, ginger, mirin, rice vinegar, and umeboshi vinegar. Combine the mushroom soaking liquid plus additional water to total 2 C and add to the pan. Toss the ingredients, cover, and bring to a medium simmer. Maintain a simmer with the lid closed for 30 minutes. Check the water level after about 20 minutes to make sure too much isn't being lost to steam. The cabbage should be tender when done. Drizzle the sesame oil over the cooked cabbage before serving, or add about 4 drops to each serving individually.
Serve the cabbage hot or chilled.
Yield: 4-6 servings. The cabbage will keep for 1 week refrigerated.