Recipe: pickled chinese cabbage
My good friends know that I have a rule about worrying – I try not to fret about things I have no control over. This comes in handy because I get several medical scans and tests and I generally do not waste an ounce of energy on worrying myself before I get the results. Life comes with her own stresses as it is, there is no reason for me to be heaping more on. The further I move away from my cancer treatments, the more they become a faded memory. With the exception of a few permanent issues that I’ll carry for the rest of my life, I am doing very well and I feel good! I feel normal.
kaweah loves her summer walks
I get one mammogram and one MRI every year to scan for new or recurring cancer. I don’t expect anything from the mammogram because it never detected my original cancer whereas the MRI did. So I had an MRI a few weeks ago… and I never heard from radiology about the results. I have been so busy I had essentially forgotten about it. It was on the drive to my oncology appointment that Jeremy admitted to me he was concerned about my MRI, because we hadn’t heard anything. At first I felt horrible that my dear man – the fellow who was my only caregiver during my entire ordeal – was quietly worrying himself sick over me. Then the thoughts crept into that dark part of my brain. Perhaps radiology only calls you with results when everything is fine, but wants to give you the bad news in person? Well no – my surgeon gave me the bad news over the phone. What gives? And so went my internal conversation.
heart-leaf arnica dot the forest understory
It’s hard to describe what I felt. I powered through chemo as best I could, but I found myself dreading that last infusion because each one did more damage than the previous. It’s not just the treatments, but feeling as if your body is not your own as your condition deteriorates under the chemicals. I look at my friend, Barbara, and think what a lion she is for enduring chemo not once, but THREE times and yet she is so grounded and strong.
i always welcome the arrival of the brilliant green aspen leaves
But my appointment was a happy occasion because my oncologist was back. He had been on leave for cancer treatment – a horrible treatment far worse than mine, and yet here he was looking great and joking and smiling and being his awesome self. My onc is one of the finest human beings I have ever had the privilege to know. Truly. We adore him. I asked about my MRI results and he pulled them up on the computer (electronic records ROCK) and read them out to me. Negative. No cancer detected. He sent a copy to the printer for me to have. He smiled at me and I smiled at Jeremy who squeezed my hand.
last light over the local peaks
By my estimates, we’ve experienced about 7 days of spring between the last snow storm and the onslaught of hot weather. 80°F on my deck is hot and not in the good way. Even Kaweah is sprawled out in the cool office instead of roasting her brains in the great room right now. Despite the heat, our house is in a particularly good mood this weekend – more so than usual. Part of that could be the MRI results and part of that could be this pickled Chinese cabbage I’m noshing.
start with a head of napa cabbage
wash, shake off, and blot dry the leaves
It happens more often than you might think. I’ll describe a dish to my parents and ask if they know how to make it, but when they describe the recipe I’ll say, “That doesn’t sound like what I’m talking about.” I can imagine their frustration because if I were them I’d be all “Okay, whatever, I can’t help you.” But they insist their recipe is correct or Mom will call Grandma for her recipe (which is invariably different from Mom’s or Dad’s recipe) and I’m just confused. I went with intuition and a little help from each of their recipes to come up with this salty, sweet, vinegary, spicy, fragrant, cold pickled cabbage.
slice up the leaves
mix and boil the pickling liquid
There was a Chinese restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia that my family frequented when I was a little kid. The owner was a soft-spoken and kind gentleman who always treated my parents like old friends and gave me and Kris complimentary Shirley Temples. I would get so excited when my parents ordered a cold appetizer plate leng pan because in the center of the beautiful fans of cold cuts would be a little bowl of cold pickled vegetables – my favorite. I’m pretty sure it was Chinese cabbage and daikon radish. It’s one of those childhood memories that stick in your brain and then 30 years later you look at yourself and think, “Sheesh, I’m a freaking food blogger – ya think I could figure this one out?”
sichuan peppercorns and other goodies
layering everything in the jar
Not only was I very excited about making this pickle from my youth, but I scored a 1-gallon canning jar at the craft store. [I'm not canning anything at the moment, but I *am* pickling and infusing - so stay tuned for more jarred goodness!] Some of the recipes called for blanching the cabbage, others involved salted water, some tossed the cabbage with oil. I just went for straight cabbage with stuff and pickling juice. The carrots and red bell pepper were more for color than anything else (they’re great too), but are completely optional. Here is what isn’t optional: Sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers (like the ones I used in the kung pao chicken recipe). The Sichuan peppercorns are not like regular black peppercorns. They have a spicy fragrance more akin to pine, but in the pickle they add a bright zing to the cabbage. Even if you don’t like spicy foods, I recommend popping a couple of dried red chili peppers into the mix for that added dimension. If you *like* spicy, then add a dozen.
pour in the liquid
after several hours, the cabbage compacts down
This pickled cabbage makes a great appetizer or side dish. I avoid eating the peppercorns and the chilis as it can be quite startling if you unintentionally bite into either of those. You can also substitute regular cabbage for Napa cabbage. It’s all good in my book.
a lovely little bowl of pickled vegetables
Pickled Chinese Cabbage
1 head Napa cabbage
5-6 slices of fresh ginger
5 oz. (1/2 cup + 2 tbsps) sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt
1 cup rice wine vinegar
2 cups water
1 carrot, peeled and cut into slivers
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into slivers (optional – I just added them for color)
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
6-12 dried red chili peppers (depending on how spicy you want it)
Lop off the base of the head of Napa cabbage. Separate the leaves and wash them. Shake off excess water and blot with a towel. Stack several leaves together in the same orientation and cut a couple of 1-inch sections (the tougher white parts) – don’t throw them out, you’ll want to keep it all. Then slice the remaining leafy section lengthwise. Repeat with all of the leaves. The smaller leaves can be left whole. In a small saucepan, heat the ginger, sugar, salt, rice wine vinegar, and water. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat. In a large glass jar, layer the cabbage, carrots, bell pepper (if using), Sichuan peppercorns, and red chili peppers. Pour the pickling liquid (including the ginger) into the jar. Cover the jar tightly. Give it a shake. Place in refrigerator. Don’t worry if the liquid doesn’t cover all of the cabbage, over time the cabbage will wilt and settle into the liquid. Refrigerate for at least a day, but I prefer at least three days.