Welcome to spicy Chinese stir-fried cabbage! This delicious dish is done in a whirlwind and provides a crunchy Asian lunch fix with some heat or a fantastic side dish if you serve a Chinese dinner. Much better than Asia takeaway veggies, because by making the cabbage yourself you can control the level of spice and crunchiness – and also enjoy it immediately which is essential for best texture and flavour!
Luckily getting it right is very easy. You just have to prepare the spices and condiments, chop garlic and ginger and rip the cabbage leaves apart. My Chinese friend who taught me this dish, has insisted that tearing the leaves up yields a better flavour than chopping the cabbage with a knife. That’s because tearing the leaves creates more surfaces that will hold on to the sauce and the flavours of your spices.
Why cabbage is great
Cabbage was out of fashion in Germany for a long time and is only now celebrating a steady comeback in all shapes and colours.
In China, however, cabbage has never been off the table. Both the long and thick napa cabbages and the round and solidly packed white cabbage have always been an important part of the diet, especially in China’s north. Napa cabbage is simply called da bai cai in Chinese, which means big white vegetable, while white cabbage is yuan bai cai, meaning round white vegetable.
Every autumn, farmers used to carry their cabbage on wooden pushcarts, small open lorries or electric tricycles into the city of Beijing, selling them at street corners. The sight of huge piles of napa cabbage neatly arranged for purchase by these farmers, has been ubiquitous in China’s capital for decades. Now with the emergence of supermarkets, this kind of street sale is not as common anymore – but it still exists. Northern China’s people buy scores of napa cabbage for the winter, store them in the yard or on the balcony or pickle it. Stored outdoors during the cold winter, it lasts for months. We used to do store cabbages like this for a few years, too.
Cabbage may be regarded as a low price modest vegetable. But we love its versatility – you can make salads with it, stir-fries, soups, stews – or Germany’s most famous cabbage dish, Sauerkraut. People around the globe make slaws from it, or pickle it into fiery hot Kimchi.
All these foods are delicious – and very healthy, as cabbage is packed with vitamins and minerals. A cup of chopped cabbage contains half of your recommended daily Vitamin C intake, and a good does of Vitamin B and Folate both of which are essential for many body functions. And it boasts heaps of antioxidants such as polyphenolsthat help your body fight free electrons that cause inflammation. Quickly stir-frying the cabbage keeps all these nutrients in place.
A word on some ingredients
When making spicy Chinese stir-fried cabbage, we mostly use white cabbage which is the round tightly packed cabbage with pretty sturdy leaves. But I have also made it from the longish slightly looser napa cabbage. When using napa cabbage, frying time is shorter, as the cabbage leaves start to wilt more quickly, and the white parts are becoming tender much faster than those of round white cabbage.
For this dish, the Chinese use dried chilies rather than fresh ones. De-seed chilies if you prefer a somewhat reduced heat. The seeds carry a large share of the chili’s spiciness. Dried chilis are available in Asia supermarkets and can be stored in your pantry for a long time when kept dry.
Sichuan pepper is widely available in Asian groceries in the West. There are two different kinds – a red one and a greenish-blackish version. Only the black Sichuan pepper creates a slight tingling sensation that is important for the full flavour of this dish. So I recommend you to use this one.
Soy sauce is a central ingredient in Chinese cooking to give it the distinct tangy flavour and a bit of colour. It is often used not as replacement of salt but as additional ingredient. Soy sauce contains a bit of gluten, so use the Japanese soy sauce tamari as a gluten-free alternative. It is darker, less salty, and has a strong umami flavor. Start with a tablespoon as described in the recipe for soy sauce. Taste the dish and add a bit more if you would like to add more flavour.
How to make it
So are you in for one of the easiest quickest yummiest cabbage meals? Ok, again it is all pretty easy. You chop up chilies, garlic and ginger, and prepare the salt, soy sauce and keto sweetener.
Again, rip your cabbage leaves apart into bite-sized pieces for stronger flavour. Wash and rinse them, and best even tumble them dry. The leaves have to be completely dry before going into the wok or pan.
Ready? Then put your wok or non-stick pan to high heat. Wait until you can feel that the wok heats up and then pour in the oil. Once the oil is hot, add ginger, garlic and Sichuan peppercorns. Stir-fry for 30 seconds until fragrant. Then, you quickly stir in the chilis and immediately add the cabbage. Vigorously stir-fry the cabbage which will shrink a little bit. You can use two hands with two frying spoons if easier.
The high heat is important for prefect texture but that means you have to take care not to burn your ingredients. Hence the vigorous stirring that prevents any leaf to be at the bottom of the pan for too long. In China, most people have gas stoves where you can quickly reduce the heat to immediate effect. Electric stoves like the one we have here in Germany can’t do that so if you feel you need to get your cabbage off the heat for a moment, lift up the pan or shift it to an unused spot, stir a bit and move it back to the heat. For this dish, never leave the wok or stove for the short cooking time.
After a few minutes, the cabbage’s colour changes and becomes a little shiny and translucent. When you notice this change, add the soy sauce and sweetener and put down the heat. Keep stirring and add salt and vinegar at low heat. Taste and add more salt, soy sauce or vinegar if needed. The cabbage should have a distinct mix of salty, spicy and slightly sour flavour. The white parts have to still be crunchy but not taste raw.
Shift cabbage to a serving plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately with cauliflower rice. If you like, serve a spoonful of roasted peanuts and some red chili paste alongside.
This spicy stir-fried cabbage is also great as a part of a shared Asian dinner consisting of several dishes. For example, pair it with yet another spicy dish, my mapo tofu or with Kung Pao Chicken. For a purely vegetarian/vegan option, choose stir-fried broccoli with garlic. As my blog is still fairly new, more Chinese and Asian recipes will come up in the future. In the meantime, check blogs like The woks of Life for more options – many Asian dishes are low carb by nature!
Crunchy, spicy cabbage fix! Stir-fry your own delicious Chinese side dish, and pair it with other Asian fare or just with roasted peanuts and cauliflower rice. Yum!
Serves 2 as a main dish or more if served as part of a shared Chinese dinner with several dishes
1/2 white cabbage
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2–4 dried chilis depending on desired spice level, chopped and deseeded (keep seeds for more heat)
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp brown keto sweetener
1 tbsp soy sauce or Tamari
1 tbsp Chinese or white vinegar
Sea salt to taste
Roasted sesame seeds for healthy garnish
- Rip your cabbage leaves apart into bite-sized pieces. Wash, rinse and tumble dry. The leaves have to be dry before going into the wok or pan.
- Put a wok to high heat. Wait until the wok heats up and then pour in the oil. Once the oil is hot, add ginger, garlic and Sichuan peppercorns. Fry for 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Quickly stir in the chilis and immediately add the cabbage. Vigorously stir-fry the cabbage which will shrink a little bit. You can use two hands with two frying spoons if easier.
- After a few minutes, the cabbage’s colour changes and becomes a little translucent. When you notice the change, add the soy sauce and sweetener and put down the heat.
- Stir in salt and vinegar at low heat. Taste and add more salt, soy sauce or vinegar if needed. The cabbage should have a distinct mix of salty, spicy and slightly sour flavour.
- Shift cabbage to a serving plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately with cauliflower rice and/or other Chinese/Asian dishes. A spoonful of roasted peanuts and a dollop of red chili paste or other Asian condiment are also yummy. Enjoy!
- Category: meal
- Method: stir-fry
- Cuisine: Chinese