Chinese Spiced Red Cabbage

December 16, 2008

Red cabbage it may be called but it’s not red at all. It’s more purple than anything. And goes midnight blue when blanched.

Actually, the bluer bits are just the colour I wanted to paint my room when I was 13. That marvellous fantasy room was going to have purple walls and a yellow ceiling. Or sometimes the other way round, mustard walls and a purpley-blue ceiling. I lay in bed, hands behind my head looking up, and dreamed and dreamed about that room. Sometimes there were also painted stars up there twinkling down on me. Or even better, luminous stars, a whole galaxy of them.

All we would ever play would be Led Zeppelin or the Best of Cream.

But no, it didn’t happen. No surprises there. And now I live in the usual off-white interior of any London flat. Though one day, maybe, one day when I’m very old indeed…

To get back to the cabbage. I made this dish with Sam in mind. Have I mentioned Sam? She’s the girlfriend of my flatmate D.  (And why are some of these names on my blog given in full and some remain initials? It makes no sense does it?  So OK then, D’s full name is David. There. Now you know. Happy?)

I’m sure Sam would like purple walls. Hey, now I come to think of it – happy coincidence! – that’s what she’s painted their bedroom! And it looks great! They have a beaded curtain too, instead of wardrobe doors. No don’t worry, it’s a modern beaded curtain, not hippy-chic, or only insofar as it’s an ironic retro glance at 1973.

Sam is a yoga teacher, and maybe that’s why she’s obsessed with chillies. It’s all that time spent doing sun salutations in Andhra Pradesh. Chillies go in all her food, even more so than in mine. I know, hard to believe, isn’t it? I mean in everything, from mashed potato to full-blown Biryani. Our fridge is full of them, they tumble in little packets from the plastic shelves in the door, green, red, Thai – you name it, we’ve got it. And that’s not to mention the assorted sauces – green jalapeno sauce, jerk barbecue sauce…It’s Chilli Central here.

So the chillies were for Sam, and once I’d gone down that route the whole thing began to come together.

I’d always known it had to be a new version of red cabbage. The traditional cloyingly sweet variety with lots of cloves and apple may go fine with pork, but with anything else it’s all at odds, one of those gawky types, arms akimbo, who never really fit in with the crowd.

For me, red cabbage has to zing. That may not be a technical cooking term but you get my drift. It has to have bite.

And so, with that in mind, some red onion, parsley, capers and some serious chopping later, I came up with this. Yes, it may look like just another vegetable medley. But have a forkful. Good, eh? Just what you need  to jazz up your Christmas dinner? Not that unlike the Brussels sprouts you know and love, but with with its own gentle nudge towards the Chinese.


Chinese Spiced Red Cabbage, for 4

1 red cabbage, about 500g, finely sliced
1 red onion, sliced
2 green chillies, de-seeded and finely sliced
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1-2 tbs Balsamic vinegar
1 level tbs sugar
2 tbs capers
1-2 tsp vegetarian green curry paste (you can get this from health food stores)
chopped fresh parsley
cayenne, to taste (I used a teaspoonful)
salt, pepper

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and give the chillies and onion a couple of minutes. Now throw in the red cabbage. Once it’s all cooking nicely, turn the heat down, cover, and cook for up to 10 minutes, all depending how crisp you like your vegetables.

Add the five spice, the vinegar, sugar, capers, curry paste, salt and pepper, and cook for another few minutes.

Stir in the parsley and a modicum of cayenne and serve.


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