Southerners love to pickle just about anything: pickled okra, pickled green beans, even pickled peaches. I've always had an aversion to true pickles (made with cucumbers), which kept me from trying the other kinds until later in life. Good thing I made the leap! Now I'll devour just about anything covered in vinegar. Down South, it's made with apple cider. In Asia, it's rice. I'll take 'em both.
On my recent visit to Taiwan, I discovered countless other similarities between their native cuisine and mine. (They like sweet tea, too!) Pork is a predominate ingredient, often showing up in a family-style charcuterie platter to start the meal. And just like in the south, a side of pickled vegetables is nestled right alongside the savory sausages. For some inexplicable reason I found myself hoarding the pickled carrots, probably to the dismay of my dining companions.
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)