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Dressing Up Humble Red Cabbage

I usually have a plan for dinner. After all, I’m a Virgo with four planets in Virgo. We tend to details. But I didn’t have a plan last night, and when I got home at 6 p.m., ready to hunker down for a Carolina ice storm, what I really wanted to do was work out before cooking. So I quickly wrapped up some sweet potatoes and put them in the oven to bake, postponing my thoughts about the rest of the menu. Thirty minutes later I was finally ready to cook, but my menu was still an empty page.

As resourceful (or sometimes desperate) cooks often do, I opened the refrigerator door looking for inspiration.  The red cabbage that had been ignored for a few days was calling my name. My first thought was to make a quick stir-fry, using cabbage as the focus since I  didn’t have a lot of veggies on hand. But first I chopped an onion and placed it in a hot pan with ghee, since I like to cook onions for a good 15 minutes or more before adding other veggies. By giving onions a good head start they can become sweetly caramelized by the time the dish is complete.  I put a pot of  water on the stove to bring it to a boil for gluten-free pasta. Lately I’ve been using a mung pasta, which has a neutral flavor that goes well with anything and is a good vegetarian protein. I added the cabbage to the onions with a little water to help it soften. Cabbage is notorious for causing intestinal gas, if you’ll forgive my candor, but it’s easier to digest when cooked until quite tender with spices.

It was only when I began slicing zucchini that it occurred to me this dish had the potential to transcend the reputation of a pedestrian stir-fry. Instead of serving the sweet potato as a side dish, as though an afterthought, why not make it central to the plate? So while the cabbage was softening, I took the potatoes out of the oven, pulled off their skins and mashed them with a little ghee and salt. When the cabbage looked perfect, I added cumin, coriander and lots of fresh ginger for flavor. I put the pasta into its boiling cauldron and added the zucchini to the stir-fry.  In the final minutes I added a few big handfuls of spinach to the stir-fry (wishing it were arugula) so that it would wilt by the time I was ready to assemble all the food.

Now for the fun! I loaded two plates by layers. The first layer was pasta, which I topped with a heaping portion of sweet potatoes. Then I piled on the veggies and sprinkled them with some chopped pecans to complement the sweet potatoes. Suddenly a mundane meal had been transformed into a minor culinary event!  The ice storm never arrived, thankfully, but much to my surprise Annapurna  had come to work in my kitchen.

Vata types have trouble digesting cabbage, but sweet potatoes, zucchini and the spices are all very grounding for vata, bringing this dish more into balance for the vata nature if eaten on occasion. Asafetida (also called hing) is used by Ayurvedic cooks to help prevent flatulence. Sorry to speak of such things in a food blog, but this is the truth! Enjoy this Red Cabbage Stir-Fry!






Preparation Time: About 90 minutes (40 minutes active)
Makes 4 servings


4 medium sweet potatoes
1 medium sweet onion
3  tablespoons  ghee + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon asafetida (optional)*
1 small red cabbage
2 large zucchini
2 to 3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger, to taste
1/2 cup  pecans or pistachios
Heaping teaspoon Grey Celtic Sea Salt
1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin
1 heaping teaspoon ground coriander
3 to 4 tablespoons Bragg Liquid Aminos, to taste
7 to 12 ounces G-F pasta, depending on preferred portion size
1/2 teaspoon Fine Ground Celtic Sea Salt
4 cups arugula or baby spinach
1 handful of fresh chopped basil

Note: Not all asafetida powder is gluten-free. Check the label in Asian markets or buy online. However, if you have a small block of asafetida resin, you can grate it yourself.


1. Bake sweet potatoes on 450° F for 60 to 90 minutes.

2. Chop onion. Heat large sauté pan or soup pot on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of ghee to the pan. (Save the rest of the ghee for mashing potatoes.) Add asafetida to the pan, if using. Add onions and stir periodically so the onions cook evenly.

3. Chop red cabbage.  Slice zucchini. Peel and grate ginger. Chop nuts. Bring large pot of water to boil with a heaping teaspoon of salt for pasta.

4. When the onions have turned uniformly golden and just started to brown, add cabbage on top of the onions without stirring, and add 1/2  cup of purified water. Cover and continue to cook on medium heat. If all the water has not been absorbed in about 10 minutes, cover and continue cooking until most of the water has been absorbed.  Then add cumin, coriander and Bragg’s gluten-free soy sauce, and stir. Add zucchini, cover the pan, and steam the veggies about 7 minutes until the zucchini is just tender. Finally, add greens to the sauté  pan, add ginger, stir well and cover the pan for a couple of minutes so that the greens wilt. Remove the pan from the heat source when this step is complete. Add fresh basil (or any favorite herb, but use a smaller quantity, such as 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary).

5. When the potatoes are tender, it’s time to boil the pasta for 10 minutes or according to product directions.  While the pasta is cooking, pull the skins off the sweet potatoes. Mash them with fine-ground salt and 1/2 to 1 tablespoon ghee.

6. Drain pasta and drizzle olive oil over the pasta and stir.

7. Assemble each plate in layers by starting with the pasta. Add a mound of  sweet potatoes on top of the pasta. Cover the sweet potatoes with stir-fry. Sprinkle with nuts and serve.

* You can add any of your favorite veggies. I would have added okra but my husband doesn’t care for it. Mushrooms might be a nice addition.
* Omit pasta. Cook a small pot of mung or black beans with salt, and load everything on a good-sized serving of beans.
* Pescetarian option: Add some grilled shrimp.
* Turn this into the ultimate comfort food by making it a pot pie: discard the pasta and load the other layers into a pie shell. Top with a second pie crust and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.


2 Responses

  1. Betsy Herman says:

    He doesn’t care for okra? How could this be? Your recipe sounds and looks great!

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks, Betsy! He’s not a Southerner! And his love of Indian cuisine didn’t translate to “ladies’ fingers.”