Today: Cabbage gets frisky.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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