The best we can hope for
I would take any day over Monday. Any day. Even my seventeenth birthday, which was a very disappointing day. The only way I might be convinced to change my mind is if Mondays, as a rule, took place in a quiet room with white walls and a wood floor and muted sunlight, a large armchair, a stack of first-rate books, a fudgy brownie, and a small black-and-white dog who sits beside you in the armchair, curled up like a trussed pot roast. But that is not my Monday.
I did, however, have a good lunch today, which was a decent trade. Sometimes I think a good lunch is the best we can hope for.
What you see up there, in the wok, is green cabbage stir-fried until it caramelizes at the edges, tossed with sambal oelek and soy sauce. I call it Cabbage with Hot Sauce. It doesn’t look like much to speak of, I know, and I’m sorry about that. But if you eat it alongside some toast and cheddar, or a fried egg, one with a nice, saucy yolk, you won’t think twice. I hope.
We’ve been eating cabbage this way for a while, but it’s such a plain, off-the-cuff method - hardly even a recipe, really - that until yesterday, it never occurred to me to mention it here. I guess it’s a little like the chickpea salad that way, although more feisty in flavor. Brandon came up with the idea a few years ago, when he was still living in New York. I was visiting him, and we had bought a green cabbage for some recipe that I now can’t remember, and after making whatever it was, half of the cabbage was still sitting in the crisper drawer. So one day, for a late breakfast, Brandon fished it out, sliced it into thin ribbons, and chucked it into a hot wok with a dribble of oil, a spoonful of hot sauce, and some soy sauce for seasoning. We ate it with hummus and pita, or maybe it was cheddar and some bread. I can’t remember. But it was delicious - spicy and earthy and a little sweet from the fire under the wok - and the next day, when I flew back to Seattle, I took the leftovers in a to-go container that we found in his housemate’s cabinet, along with a bagel and cream cheese from Absolute Bagels. It sounds like an iffy combination, but somehow it was spectacular, both hot and soothing, salty and sweet, and I was both so happy and so desperately sad to leave, and sometimes, when I sit very still and let my mind go to the places where it goes when I don’t stop it, I miss those days so much.
But luckily, I did marry him, and now I can have that cabbage any time, so it’s okay. It’s also nice that he has hands that photograph well, and that he doesn’t strangle me with them when I stand up in the middle of lunch and scream, “WAIT! DON’T MOVE. Where’s my camera? I’ve got to climb up on the chair....”
Anyway, so now the cabbage is yours. That’s what I’m trying to say. It’s not dinner party material, particularly, but if you have a soft spot for cabbage, and if you have some hot sauce rolling around in your refrigerator door, it is a very fine way to put them to use. We ate it for lunch yesterday, with fried eggs from the farmers’ market, and it was so simple and right that I decided that you needed to know about it. And the leftovers today, with a couple pieces of toast and some slices of sharp white cheddar, something rich and cooling, made me feel all the more certain.
Have a good week, everyone.
Cabbage with Hot Sauce
This is more of a method than a recipe, so the quantities I’ve listed below are only approximate. Just taste as you go, and tweak to your liking. It’s hard to mess this up, as long as you get some color on the cabbage.
When choosing an oil for this, be sure to choose one with a high smoke point, the safest bet for high-heat cooking. We usually use canola oil, because I keep it around for making granola, but we have also used peanut oil and grapeseed oil. (Or, if you’re the type to have lard lying around - ooh la la - you could use that. It has a high smoke point too.) To learn more about high-temperature oils and fats, click over here or here.
½ head green cabbage, quartered and sliced into ¼-inch-thick ribbons
½ medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced (optional)
Canola oil, or another oil with a similarly high smoke point
¼ tsp. to 1 tsp. sambal oelek, to taste
Soy sauce, to taste
Salt, to taste (optional)
Place a wok over high heat. Let it heat thoroughly; it should even smell hot. Working quickly, pour in a glug of oil* and then immediately add the cabbage and the fennel, if using. Stir briefly to coat with oil, and then leave it alone for a minute or so, to allow the vegetables to begin to take on some color. Then add sambal oelek to taste, and stir again. (If you have a hood over your stove, turn on the fan! The hot sauce gives off spicy fumes.) Continue to cook until the vegetables are browned in spots and wilted. It won’t take long. Then add a glug of soy sauce, and stir well again. Taste, and season with more soy sauce or salt as needed.
Serve hot or warm.
Yield: 2-4 servings, depending on what else you’re having
* Be sure to have a lid nearby, or some baking soda, since hot oil always runs a risk of flaring up.