I love cruciferous vegetables. Cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts: I love them all. These vegetables tend to be pungent, and stand up well to aggressive cooking methods and flavors; they can be roasted, caramelized in a hot sauté pan, or braised; they do well with curry, soy sauce, garlic, and chilies. Lately, I have been eating a lot of cauliflower and kale; they serve as a great foundation for quick, weeknight meals. (Sauté some half a head of cauliflower with a diced link of chicken sausage, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Pile it into a bowl, and sprinkle some cheese on top. It can be ready in about 20 minutes, and you will not be disappointed.)
Lately, I’ve been on the prowl for more cabbage recipes. I think of it as a scrub brush for my insides; I simply feel healthier after I eat it. It tends to be relegated to slaws and cold salads, which I love, but it has greater potential. I recently revisited an old stir-fry recipe, but I wanted to diversify. So I began my internet research routine. I saw a cabbage salad with bacon and blue cheese that had potential, but I didn’t want a salad; I also recently had kimchi and sausage fried rice at a restaurant near my house called Furaibo, which was delightful. Those two ideas must have been mingling in my mind because I developed an amalgamation of the two: cabbage fried rice with bacon. This is not the first time I’ve included a little bacon in my fried rice, and it is a great addition. Just a few strips of bacon lend a little richness to an otherwise veggie-heavy meal.
Fried rice is challenging because it is best with cold, leftover rice. If you use fresh, hot rice, it tends to mushy. Leftover rice allows each grain to remain intact, and a little chewy. I never (i.e. never) have leftover rice on hand. Fear not: Psycho Cooker has brainstormed, and developed a solution to this problem. I buy frozen rice at Trader Joe’s. All you have to do is microwave it, spread it out on a plate, and throw it in the refrigerator, uncovered to let it chill and firm up a bit. If you do this first, it can chill in there for about 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of dish, and there you have a shortcut to chilled, leftover rice. I prefer brown rice, but that is a matter of taste.
Another dilemma with fried rice is the egg. Egg is a crucial ingredient in fried rice, but it can tricky to get it right. Sometimes it sticks to pan, or it doesn’t cook properly, and makes the rice wet, instead of having tender pieces of scrambled egg throughout. This is fried rice, not carbonara – you want the egg firm and set. I have a good method for working about this issue, but you must use a non-stick pan. I am deep in my love affair with cast iron, but cast iron and eggs do not groove together. So, I cooked my egg separately in a non-stick pan, as a very thin omelet, and then diced it up and added it to the fried rice towards the end. I never tried this before, but I am now sold on this methodology. It resulted in perfectly cooked and evenly distributed throughout the end product.
I made this dish with Savoy cabbage, peas, carrots, and sweet onion. When I make fried rice, I typically use a wider variety of vegetables, but I limited it here so the cabbage would be the star. I seasoned it the usual suspects: with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha, but I also included a bit of fresh minced lemongrass. My aunt has it growing in her garden like wildfire; she recommended that I give it a whirl. It is optional, but if you are intimidated by lemongrass, this is recipe could be a good way to conquer your fears. The key to using lemongrass is “bruising” the stalk, which is a subtle way to saying you need to beat the stalk to smithereens before mincing it up. Here is a brief video tutorial from Melissa Clark to get you started. The lemongrass flavor was lovely and subtle; I used two stalks, but I think I could have easily doubled the quantity.
Because I included the lemongrass, I finished the dish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, which really helped balance and brighten the flavors. Lime would work, but the lemon juice echoed the lemongrass so nicely. I also finished it with some fresh basil because as it has some citrusy notes that fit in nicely with my lemon motif. I also included it because my aunt sent me home with a bushel of it from her garden. Fresh basil also happens to elevate a simple turkey sandwich to new heights, so that caused a big improvement in my workweek lunches. Cabbage fried rice and basil-laced turkey sandwiches: that’s a good week in psycho land. Yet, my week in food managed to improve from there. More on that later.
Cabbage Fried Rice with Bacon
¼ pound bacon
2 eggs, beaten
Vegetable or other light colored oil, as needed
1 to 1 ½ pounds Savoy or Napa Cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
½ sweet onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2-4 stalks lemongrass, minced (optional. For a tutorial, click here)
¾ cup frozen peas (no need to thaw)
2 cups cold leftover brown rice (or use my shortcut method stated above)
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
Juice of half of a lemon
Fresh basil for garnish (optional)
First, chop everything, and line up your ingredients like soldiers. This is crucial for fried rice, as the cooking process is very quick.
Cook your strips of bacon in a large skillet or cast iron pan over medium heat, until they are lightly crisp. While the bacon cooks, cook your eggs in an omelet style in a non-stick pan with a little bit of oil (your omelet does not have to be perfect because you are just going to chop it up anyway). Set them aside when they are finished (if you are using a non-stick skillet for your rice, you could also cook your eggs in this style).
Set aside your bacon to drain on paper towel. Remove all but about 3 tablespoons bacon grease. Chop the bacon and egg when it is cool to touch.
Increase the heat to medium high, and sauté the onion and carrots in the bacon grease. Stir frequently, for 3-5 minutes, until onion and carrot begin to soften. Then add the cabbage, and a little bit of vegetable oil if the pan looks dry. Add the garlic, ginger, and lemongrass (if using). Sauté all of the vegetables until the cabbage is wilted, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Next add the peas, rice, and a drizzle of oil, if the pan looks dry. Sauté the rice until it is heated through. Add the chopped bacon and egg, and stir to combine.
Season with soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, and lemon juice. Taste your delicious rice, and adjust the seasonings if needed. Garnish with fresh basil, and enjoy.
November 8, 2014