Madhur Jaffrey's Stir-Fried Cabbage with Fennel Seeds

January 16, 2013

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.

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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)




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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Melissa March 27, 2015
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...
Aimee R. March 27, 2015
The link to the sexy cabbage roundup is broken and I really want to see what other recipes for cabbage you were offering?
Janice August 25, 2014
I used mustard oil instead of veg oil, makes pungent and wonderful difference.
emcsull August 26, 2014
now there's a good idea !!!
heather February 4, 2014
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 ?
hbomb May 6, 2013
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.
samanthaalison March 6, 2013
This is some seriously sexy cabbage.
sandicookie January 27, 2013
i love frisky!
dacyalisan January 22, 2013
hello, I love to follow your blog, hope you can read and follow my blog too
Eliza B. January 21, 2013
i think it is pretty good not my favorite
emcsull January 21, 2013
I have revered Madhur Jaffrey and her cookbooks for 20 years, no suprise to find her here, she is the best !
PRST January 21, 2013
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.
Christina @. January 21, 2013
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 ;)
Literary E. January 20, 2013
Oh, I have made this and it's fantastic! Thanks for the reminder. Yum.
Jabwok January 20, 2013
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,
cook4fun January 20, 2013
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 ;-)
Judy C. January 20, 2013
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?
Kristen M. January 21, 2013
Sounds like a fun variation! I love that strange tingling too. Let us know how it goes if you try it out.
aimeebama January 19, 2013
This is outrageously good. Tonight's seal of approval via our toddler: «Nummmmmmmy!» (She couldn't get enough of it.)
Brette W. January 17, 2013
It's taken three years, but I've officially converted my roommates to cabbage-lovers. All it took was this recipe. Thanks K!
AntoniaJames January 16, 2013
Made this for dinner; even better than I imagined. Excellent recipe. ;o)
darksideofthespoon January 16, 2013
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! ;)
Kristen M. January 16, 2013
I haven't tried it, but why not? Let us know how it goes if you do!
Fairmount_market January 17, 2013
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: