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Madhur Jaffrey's Stir-Fried Cabbage with Fennel Seeds

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Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Cabbage gets frisky.

Poor cabbage.

Oh, we'll remember it when coleslaw is on the menu, or as a buddy for corned beef. But when we're trying to think up a vegetable side, there are others that get us all riled up -- "let's get that twirly broccoli!" or "ooh, shaved asparagus!" we say. 

It's never "ooh, cabbage." It hasn't even had one of those crucifer underdog revivals yet, like brussels sprouts or cauliflower.

But maybe it's about to. Anyone who's made fiveandspice's Suspiciously Delicious Cabbage -- or any of the other 6 recipes in last week's envelope-pushing "Sexy Cabbage" roundup -- knows there's a whole lot of potential locked up in those milky white leaves.

So when food writer China Millman, my star genius source, told me, "This recipe has turned cabbage into one of my favorite vegetables," I knew something good was coming. 

Maybe the mistake we're making is that we cook to death or don't cook at all. By skating somewhere down the middle, Madhur Jaffrey's stir-frying method crams in an incredible amount of flavor in very little time. And yet it still manages to bring out the shy cabbage's own personality, not painting it over like creamy slaws or braised piles, drunk with cinnamon and wine. 



Here are the keys to a cabbage makeover: Get some oil hot in a wide sturdy skillet, and toast your whole seeds -- fennel, cumin, and sesame -- in it. When they pop, stir in your onion curls till they're sweet, soft, and singed here and there.    

Pile on as much sliced cabbage as your pan can handle, and as much salt and cayenne as you like. Keep it hot and the cabbage moving -- it will quickly shrink into an attractive heap. 

Then one more last-second hit of flavor: garam masala and -- especially, crucially -- lemon.

If you can't find garam masala, you can make your own with Jaffrey's recipe, or approximate it with pinches of ground cardamom, black pepper, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

For anyone who loves Indian food, but hasn't tried cooking it at home, this is a cozy place to start (before moving on to the rest of Jaffrey's cookbooks). Serve the nubby, glossy strands with chicken or fish or lamb -- ones that are spicy, or ones that need some perking up. Or just over rice. Maybe with a crispy fried egg

Ooh. Cabbage.

Madhur Jaffrey's Stir-Fried Cabbage with Fennel Seeds

Recipe adapted very slightly from Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking (Chronicle Books, 2007)

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds green cabbage (half a large head)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 medium-large onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom (except Madhur Jaffrey by Muir Vidler for the Guardian)




The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.

Tags: genius, Madhur Jaffrey, cabbage, stir-fried cabbage, winter, greens

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Comments (38)


5 months ago Melissa

We just finished eating this lovely, simple stir fry. I loved the flavours- I am a sucker for fennel seed, and for trying new ways to eat local veggies from cold storage. I will definately make it again- as a side dish- to accompany main dish beans or meat, rice or fried potato. We made it a meal with runny fried egg on top, great suggestion...we'll enjoy the leftovers with tomorrow's egg breakfast. Madhur Jaffrey is one of my favourite cookbook authors- I don't own a copy of 'Quick & Easy' so it's now on my wish list...


5 months ago Aimee Ryan

The link to the sexy cabbage roundup is broken and I really want to see what other recipes for cabbage you were offering?


about 1 year ago Janice

I used mustard oil instead of veg oil, makes pungent and wonderful difference.


about 1 year ago emcsull

now there's a good idea !!!


over 1 year ago heather

this is so good just made it but made a little bit more spicy my husband will love this we both love Indian food thanks for the recipe ?


over 2 years ago hbomb

A variation of this dish became a staple in my kitchen a couple years ago. I skip the onion and add chopped fresh mango, or if I had time whenever mangos were cheap carribean style mango salsa that I can.


over 2 years ago samanthaalison

This is some seriously sexy cabbage.


over 2 years ago sandicookie

i love frisky!


over 2 years ago dacyalisan

hello, I love to follow your blog, hope you can read and follow my blog too


over 2 years ago Eliza Bradford

i think it is pretty good not my favorite


over 2 years ago emcsull

I have revered Madhur Jaffrey and her cookbooks for 20 years, no suprise to find her here, she is the best !


over 2 years ago PRST

Made this last night with a mix of napa and savoy cabbages. YUM! I was skeptical about the small amounts of spices but found the recipe to be right on. My husband can't wait to use the leftovers on his lunch sandwich.


over 2 years ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

This sounds delicious! When I read the title, I immediately thought of the Italian dish my family makes which we call minestra which is mostly cabbage with other greens, beans and fennel seeds (to mimic the flavor of the kind of sausage which goes into it in Italy.) It's so incredibly healthy because it's all greens-actually a community pick here on Food52 ;) http://christinascucina...


over 2 years ago Literary Equivalent

Oh, I have made this and it's fantastic! Thanks for the reminder. Yum.


over 2 years ago Jabwok

I know it's lazy but I often buy coleslaw and stir fry it. I'm going to use this recipe. My "coleslaw" is often flavored Chinese, Italian and now Indian,


over 2 years ago cook4fun

Choosing not to make sauerkraut yesterday I was wondering what to do with the 2 cabbages in our fridge. Well, the first of the two became Stir-fried Cabbage with Fennel Seeds. A perfect lunch. I'm imagining the same fate for the second cabbage as well. Thank you for another genius recipe. One change, okay two changes. Not having sesame seeds (or not finding the sesame seeds I know are in the bottom of the freezer somewhere), I substituted 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds. Delicious and big enough for a nice crunch when you get one. Also, subbed Aleppo Pepper for the cayenne ;-)


over 2 years ago Judy Clements

I love Madhur Jaffrey's recipes and cook lots of Indian at home. I'm always looking for ways to use Szechwan Pepper so wonder about leaving out the garam masala and sprinkling in a little bit, for that surprising tingly sensation it gives. What do you think?


over 2 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Sounds like a fun variation! I love that strange tingling too. Let us know how it goes if you try it out.


over 2 years ago aimeebama

This is outrageously good. Tonight's seal of approval via our toddler: «Nummmmmmmy!» (She couldn't get enough of it.)


over 2 years ago Brette Warshaw

It's taken three years, but I've officially converted my roommates to cabbage-lovers. All it took was this recipe. Thanks K!


over 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Made this for dinner; even better than I imagined. Excellent recipe. ;o)


over 2 years ago darksideofthespoon

I just went to the store (for milk, etc) and saw a head of cabbage. I knew right away I had to buy it to make this dish tomorrow night. Very excited!

Although, could I use purple cabbage? I already have a head of it in my fridge too, although I wasn't sure. No matter though, I can use it for a million other things! ;)


over 2 years ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

I haven't tried it, but why not? Let us know how it goes if you do!


over 2 years ago Fairmount_market

I love this recipe and am so happy to see it featured! And I think it's very flexible; I found that it even works well with green and purple brussels sprouts: http://fairmountmarket...