On the last night of my trip, I spent a magical evening dining in the romantic coastal village of Jiufen. At this point, the traditional Taiwanese foods had become familiar to me, so I knew what to expect at dinner. Sweet and sour pork made its welcome appearance, as did a large platter of Asian pickled cabbage. Our kind waitress made the mistake of putting the cabbage in front of me; again, I didn't share. In fact, I believe she had to bring out an additional platter for the rest of the table. And my love of vinegar prevailed!
I couldn't wait to make this simple side dish upon returning home, and boy, it didn't let me down. It's tangy from the vinegar, sweet from the sugar, and just a bit spicy from the ginger — a perfect balance of flavors. This pickled cabbage is going to make its appearance at many Southern barbecues (and tailgates) in the near future. I have a sneaking suspicion it will taste mighty fine with my boyfriend's smoked pulled pork.
Asian Pickled Cabbage
Serves 2 - 4 (recipe can be easily doubled)
1 large head napa cabbage
1 large carrot
2 - 4 red chili peppers
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 knob fresh ginger (about 1-1/2 inches), peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Separate the cabbage leaves from the base, wash and pat dry. Pile a few leaves into a stack. Slice the stacks length-wise, then rotate and chop into 2-inch pieces.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the carrot. Shave the remaining carrot into long slivers, then cut the slivers in half. Seed and dice the chili peppers.
In a medium saucepan, bring the rice wine vinegar, sugar, sliced ginger, and salt to a boil over medium to medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, turn off heat and set aside.
Combine the cabbage, carrots, and peppers in a large bowl or container, preferably with an airtight lid (I use a large Tupperware so that I can just put on the top and shake.). Pour the hot vinegar mixture on top, then toss until every piece is thoroughly coated. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, tossing occasionally, or overnight.
Note: The cabbage will wilt and release a lot of liquid in the process of chilling, so I use a slotted spoon when serving. Make double (or triple) of this recipe if serving a crowd.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)