I want to like cabbage, really I do. It’s so cheap, so hearty, and indeed, so hardy. It’s available year-round so you’ll never meet with disappointment when you head to the grocery store. But bleh! – it’s just never done much for me. Perhaps the problem is that it’s seemingly most used in the U.S. for slaws, the very mention of which make me shudder and think of bad family picnics, the sort with tables full of jello salads and mystery casseroles. To this day, I instantly turn the page when I see any recipe with the word slaw in it and if my veggie burger or sandwich ever comes served with that tell-tale paper container with a lump of soggy cabbage, you can bet it’s going to be pushed aside.
Really, my only hope is for warm cabbage dishes and I’ve had at least one in recent memory (a spicy, peppery side dish) that was good enough to ask the “chef” for the recipe. My motivation to try this particular recipe was in equal parts an attempt to finally conquer the lowly cabbage and turn it into something tasty and part of my quest to eat more tempeh as a meat and tofu alternative. The “vegetables” Peter Berley refers to in the title of this recipe from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen is cabbage alone, unless you count a little bit of onion and cilantro. So if there were ever a time for cabbage to take center stage and shine, this is it.
And in the end, the dish was pretty good. I’d definitely eat it again, were it to cross my plate, though I don’t know that I’ll be racing out to stock the pantry with cabbages in order to make it again right away. Between the spices and coconut milk, there was enough complexity to keep the dish interesting and the combination of tempeh and cabbage (plus rice) made it a filling dinner. I’m still far from being a cabbage convert, but I’m coming around.
Tempeh and vegetables braised in a spicy lemon-coconut broth (serves 4 with rice)
2 tbsp light sesame oil
1/2 lb tempeh cut into small pieces
1 cup thinly sliced onion
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tbsp minced ginger root
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp sugar or maple syrup
1/2 tsp caraway seeds (or anise seeds)
1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 (14-oz) can of coconut milk (full fat is best, but light will do)
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
finely grated zest of one lemon
4 cups sliced green cabbage (1/2 inch thick slices)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1. In a 8- to 10-inch frying pan over medium heat, warm 1 tbsp of the oil. Add the tempeh, stirring the pieces to coat them in oil. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the pieces are flecked with brown. Stir and flip the pieces, cover and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until lightly speckled. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. Add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil to the pan along with the onion and 1/2 tsp salt. Saute for 5 minutes, or until the onion softens.
3. Add the carrot, garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric, paprika, sugar, caraway seeds, and red pepper flakes. Saute, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes.
4. Add the tempeh, coconut milk, mirin, soy sauce, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let simmer gently for 15 minutes.
5. Place the cabbage on top of the tempeh and sprinkle on 1/2 tsp of salt. Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. The cabbage should exude enough of its own juices to keep the braise from drying out, but it not, add 1-2 tbsp water.
6. Uncover and gently turn the cabbage over several times in the pan juices to coat. Adjust the seasonings to taste, stir in the cilantro, and serve.