Friday, October 16, 2009

Stuffed Asian Cabbage Rolls

Whenever I get bored with my diet, or when I've had too much dairy, meat and starch (which is often), I always turn to Asian flavors to refresh and satisfy my palate. Hot, salty, sour and sweet combined with fresh aromatics like ginger, garlic, mint, basil, cilantro and lime - it always hits the spot.

My introduction to Asian cooking at home was the Nina Simonds book, Asian Noodles - a simple primer for cooking a variety of Pan-Asian soup, salad and noodle classics.

It was this book that began my habit of storing Asian staples in my pantry so I could satisfy my Asian comfort food cravings whenever I wanted. Now I'll just pick up a protein and whatever vegetables I need and come home and make Cinnamon Beef Noodles, Peanut Noodle Salad or Thai Red Curry soup in a pinch.

Just a few of the pantry essentials I keep around are: soy sauce, red curry paste, canned coconut milk, Mirin, a sweet rice wine used for cooking and Thai fish sauce. The words 'fish' and 'sauce' together seem to scare a lot of people but if you love and eat Thai food, you're already enjoying it without realizing it. Fish sauce in Southeast Asia is like salt in America, they season everything with it.

I picked up a copy of Jamie Oliver's new magazine, the eponymously titled, Jamie at the book store this summer and in it were a couple of great looking cabbage recipes including this one. To the plain eye, cabbage is perhaps the least sexy vegetable sitting in the produce aisle, but what a work horse and I love how quietly it carries all the other ingredients without demanding any credit. Kind of like the supporting cast in all those Jennifer Aniston movies. Ouchie.

Anywho, I finally got around to making them this week. I love this recipe and honestly can't wait to make them again. It required little skill, satisfied my craving for Asian flavors, was (is) incredibly healthy and I responded like an excited child to the perfect little packages that fit right in my hand. I also love anything that requires dipping. That said, I think this would make a great snack or lunch or you can double it as a main for dinner. You could pair it with a bowl of steamed rice with chopped scallions and a simple miso soup. Done.

Stuffed Asian Cabbage Rolls from Issue #2 of Jamie Magazine

You will need a food processor for this recipe.

1 white cabbage
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 fresh red chili, halved and seeded
Small bunch cilantro
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled (use the back of a spoon to scrape the skin off, it works like a charm)
2 skinless chicken breasts cut into large chunks
soy sauce
rice vinegar
chili oil (see below) to serve


Put a large pan of boiling, salted water on to boil. Peel back the outer leaves on the cabbage. Coax and click off 8 round leaves (it doesn't matter if they tear a little). Core the cabbage, reserving the stalk; chop the cabbage into quarters and set aside.

Drop the 8 leaves into the boiling water for 3 minutes, or until you can pick one up and bend it easily. Remove to a tray to cool down.

Put your garlic, chili, cilantro and ginger into a food processor and whiz for 30 seconds. Ad a pinch of sea salt and the chopped cabbage stalk and pulse for 30 seconds to break it down a bit. Add the chicken and one quarter of the cabbage and pulse it for 30-60 seconds until the flavors combine and you've got a nice coarse chicken mince.

Put a piece of plastic wrap on a board and scoop the mince on to it. Divide it in eight equal amounts.

Grease a large colander or steamer tray (that fits comfortably into a pan) with a bit of chili oil or olive oil. Take a soft cabbage leaf in your hand, scoop one pile of chicken mince in the middle then fold in the sides until you have a closed package. Lay it in the colander with the leaves tucked under. Repeat 7 more times.

Pour a few inches of water into the pan that fits your steamer and put over a medium flame to boil. When the water's boiling, place the colander on top so it fits into the pan and seal with a lid or some foil and steam for about 10 minutes. Do not take the lid off. When time's up, cut one and see if it's cooked through - it will be obvious.

Serve right away with a dipping sauce of equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar in a little dish. You can also do just soy if that pleases you.

Jamie also suggests a little chili oil which can be bought or made. here's a quick recipe for homemade chili oil:

Buy 2 or 3 different dried chilis at your Asian grocer, remove stems and heat in very hot and dry pan for about 1 minute. Put them in a high powered blender or pulse in the food processor with an inexpensive pint of olive oil and blitz for a minute or two. Keep in a jar in a dark, cool place. Use liberally!

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