Taiwan Eats: Braised Cabbage With Dried Shrimp, Chilies, and Shiitake Mushrooms
You've gotta eat your greens, but that doesn't mean they have to be a boring one-dimensional counterpart to a more flavorful, hearty course. In Taiwan, for instance, simple braised cabbage gets a boost from small tidbits of dried shrimp, fresh chilies, and garlic, with a generous sprinkle of shiitakes to round things out. It's a common way of preparing the winter vegetable, and few family-style meals would be complete without it.
Those flavorful add-ins are among the most readily available in the Taiwanese pantry. The subtropical island enjoys sweet, red, and mildly hot small chilies year-round; baby shrimp are dried and stored for convenience as well as pungency. Shiitake mushrooms can be obtained fresh but are often preferred dried and reconstituted—their tasty soaking liquid makes an excellent broth for braised dishes like this one.
There are many types of cabbages that could be used in this braise. The typical Taiwanese cabbage has a rather flattened, round shape, with leaves that are less densely packed than your common green cabbage. That said, you can easily swap in green cabbage or, on the other end of the spectrum, the much softer, more watery napa cabbage instead. Savoy cabbage, with its ruffly, fluffy leaves and sweet taste, would be an excellent substitute, too. Should you spot a squashed-looking head of otherwise luminous, pale-green cabbage in an Asian market, though, that's the stuff.
Soupier than the average sauté, this vegetable side course is great for pooling atop plain rice, lending subtle flavor to the entire bowl. Any time of year is a good time to eat plenty of cabbage. But with winter options thinned out to few fresh greens, here's one way to really spruce things up.
About the Author: Cathy Erway is the author of The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove. She blogs at Not Eating Out In New York and hosts the weekly podcast, "Eat Your Words" on Heritage Radio Network.