Cabbage with Crunchy Spices

December 11, 2018

I can’t say it is Roald Dahl’s fault, but I think we could agree that he played a hand in it. Cabbage soup for lunch. Cabbage soup for supper. Watery cabbage soup that left you with a horrible empty feeling in your stomach.

Remember that from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I adore Roald Dahl and his books, but I hate that cabbage is such a strong contender for the most unloved vegetable award. Cabbage needs the same publicity campaign that took brussels sprouts from a punishment you threatened your children with to star of the farm to table movement.

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So let’s start the campaign. Here’s my case for cabbage.

First, the health benefits. Cabbage is known to be a preventer of type two diabetes, has antioxidants known to decreases risks of cardiovascular disease, supports the digestive track, provides high fiber density at a low calorie count and some of the red cabbages are high in anti-inflamatory anthocyanins.

If you need to take a short break here to add cabbage to your grocery list, please do so. Go ahead.

Second, cabbage provides a mild sweet, crunchy, fresh and quick to cook canvas. This recipe is for an easy, traditional South Indian vegetable sauté, or kura. We eat it on a weeknight with rice and rasam or sambar followed by rice mixed with yogurt and a side of spicy pickle.

With the combination of just a few ingredients, you can really make any South Indian vegetable sauté. You can substitute cabbage for another leafy green vegetable like brussels sprouts, kale or spinach or a root vegetable like potatoes. For a heartier dish, combine a leafy green with a root vegetable and adding in diced garlic or ginger and shredded, unsweetened coconut.

Cabbage with Crunchy Spices


  • 1 small head of cabbage, shredded
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon yellow split peas
  • 1 teaspoon urad daal
  • 2-3 dried red chilis
  • 3-4 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder (cayenne pepper)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons Lemon juice


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a deep, wide heavy pot. Add the mustard seeds and cook 1-2 minutes on medium heat until they pop and sputter. Keep a lid nearby as the seeds and oil will splatter.
  2. Add the yellow split peas, urad daal, red chilis and curry leaves if using. Cook for 1-2 minutes until yellow split peas and urad daal have browned. Be careful not to burn.
  3. Add the onion and cook 3-4 minutes until translucent.
  4. Add the shredded cabbage, additional oil, turmeric, chili powder and salt. Mix well.
  5. Cover and cook for about 8 minutes on medium low heat stirring occasionally until the cabbage has become soft.
  6. Add lemon juice and serve hot.


Indian restaurant paneer makhani is next level comfort food…creamy tomato sauce, mild spice in the background and pillowy cubes of chewy paneer. It’s not surprising that paneer makhani has become Surya’s go to Indian food.

Of course, this means that any paneer makhani that I make at home has very strong competition to measure up to restaurant paneer makhani. Like most 9 year olds (happy birthday to my newly minted 9 yo!), she’s not persuaded by  my rationale argument that my recipe doesn’t call for heavy cream and loads of butter.

But this version of paneer makhani has elicited a “restaurant worthy” response from the family. It uses a cashew sauce for creaminess. My original recipe calls for almond butter or cashew butter plus yogurt to get that creamy consistency. Both are winners but this version is tops in our house for right now.

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Removing the skins from the tomatoes is another key step to achieving a smooth, restaurant style sauce. It also helps to bring out the juices in tomatoes which is great if you have a few less than plump, red tomatoes on hand.

To skin tomatoes, you simply cut an “X” into the bottom of the tomato like shown above. You only need to go an inch or so deep, not all the way through. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water for a few minutes until the skins start to peel. Take them out and place in a colander then run cold water over them. When they are cool enough to handle, the skins slips right off.

You can easily substitute tofu, seitan or chicken for the paneer in this dish. Chickpeas would also work well.

Let’s talk about paneer for a minute because I get a lot of questions on this front.

Do I make my own paneer? I generally do not make my own paneer sheerly out of a lack of time and pre-planning. Also, it take a lot of milk to make not a lot of paneer.

Where can I buy paneer? You can find paneer at any Indian grocery store. I recommend buying it from the refrigerated section rather than frozen section if possible because it is softer when it has not been frozen.

What brand of paneer do you buy? I used to buy Nanak brand paneer, but more recently I have found that Swad brand paneer is softer and tastes fresher. It has a long shelf life so I buy a few packages and keep them in the refrigerator. If the paneer does not feel fresh and soft when I take it out of the package, I cut it then drop it into a pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes.

Do I have to fry the paneer? I often am asked if the paneer needs to be fried before putting it into the curry. While I do fry it for some curries, I find that it is not needed for this thick, rich tomato sauce. So I cube it up and drop it right into the sauce. See above for my note about putting it into boiling water to soften it up if needed.

Paneer in a Creamy Cashew Tomato Sauce


  • 1 block paneer cheese, cut into cubes
  • 4 juicy, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 green chiles
  • 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
  • 2-3 inch stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1 teaspoon black poppy seeds
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar


  1. Soak cashews for 15-20 minutes in enough water to cover them. Puree with the soaking water in a food processor or blender.
  2. Boil enough water to cover the tomatoes.
  3. Cut an "X" into the bottom of each tomato. Place into the boiling water for 2-3 minutes until the skin on the tomatoes start to peel.
  4. Remove from boiling water and run under cool water. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the tomato skins.
  5. Quarter the tomatoes and puree in a food processor or blender with the green chilis.
  6. Add cooking oil to a deep skillet on medium heat. Add ginger -garlic paste and cinnamon stick and cook for about 15-20 seconds. The paste will splatter so keep a lid nearby.
  7. Add the tomato-chili puree and cook for about 10 minutes until some liquid has evaporated and oil separates.
  8. Stir in all of the spices and the cashew sauce. Cook for another 8-10 minutes.
  9. Add salt and sugar.
  10. Gently add the paneer and stir until well coated. Cook on low heat for another 5 minutes.
  11. Serve hot with rice, quinoa or your favorite grain or with roti.


Thai food is a food I hate to love. Mostly because vegetarian Thai curries are incredibly challenging to find. Stop reading here if you are vegetarian and a lover of Thai food. I’ve ruined Thai curries for plenty of vegetarians and am not looking to add more people to the list.

But if you are like me and ask way too many questions, then you probably already discovered that most Thai curries use fish sauce. And most Thai restaurants use pre-made curry paste which contains fish sauce. On occasion, we’ve found a Thai restaurant that makes their paste from scratch and will omit the fish sauce for us but this is rare and those restaurants seem to have come and gone.

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Although I’m still on a near constant hunt for vegetarian friendly Thai restaurants, I’ve also learned to make a solid red curry paste at home thanks to Bowl by Lukas Volger.

Learning how to make a good curry paste recipe is in the category of “very useful kitchen basics to master.” Once you have a good curry paste recipe and a batch of the paste on hand, cooking the rest of the dish becomes very straightforward.

This red curry paste recipe can turn out very spicy depending on the chiles you use, which is perfectly acceptable in my book because it means I always end up with some curry paste to freeze for later. Translation: leftover curry paste for a second meal makes it worth getting out  the spice grinder and the food processor.

Once you’ve made the red curry paste, you can use it in a lot of different ways from a big vegetable curry served over rice or ramen or soba noodles or add a bit to scrambled eggs, a marinara sauce or soup base to kick it up a bit.

A hearty vegetable curry is my favorite. I generally pair up whatever vegetables I have in the fridge but focusing on combining vegetables which are a mix of colors and textures will help provide a good balance. I also generally limit it to 2-3 vegetables to avoid overwhelming the curry. Some of my favorite combinations are cubes of tofu or seitan with:

  • Broccoli, red bell pepper and mushrooms
  • Carrots, potatoes and kale 
  • Eggplant, broccoli and mushrooms  

Bonus points if you top the bowl off with a slices of a hard boiled egg, diced cherry tomatoes and a handful of toasted peanuts.

We usually buy a high quality seitan as an alternative to tofu as a protein and texture add for curries and stirfry. After making this seitan – or chickwheat shreds – from Avocado and Ales, I’m not sure we’ll go back to the storebought version. The homemade version was softer, more absorbent of the curry sauce and way more cost efficient than buying seitan.

Here’s the recipe for Lukas’ red curry paste from his book, Bowl, which is one of the most used cookbooks in my kitchen right now. The pictures are beautiful and the book is full of fresh, flavorful vegetarian recipes to make ramen, pho, bibimbap, dumplings and other one-dish meals.

Red Curry Paste

Servings: Makes about 1/2 a cup

The recipe list looks long but if you gather everything in one place before you start making the paste, it will be very quick. This recipe makes about 1/2 a cup. I usually use half of that to make a curry but you can adjust based on your spice preference. The paste will keep for a few days in the refrigerator or for up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container.


  • 1 ounce dried hot red chilies
  • 5 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds*
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, toasted*
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 medium shallots**
  • 1/2 ounce peeled galangal or ginger (about a thumb-sized knob)
  • 1/2 ounce peeled fresh turmeric*
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white parts only, thinly sliced
  • *I substitute powdered coriander, cumin and turmeric in a pinch.
  • *I substitute 1 small yellow onion when I don't have shallots which seems to be always.


  1. Trim the stems off of the chilies. Combine with the peppercorns, cloves and the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a spice mill or food processor until powder.
  2. If using a spice mill, transfer to a food processor along with the remaining ingredients and pulse until a paste forms.
  3. Add water by the tablespoon to get the mixture moving if necessary.


This recipe is reprinted with permission from Bowl by Lukas Volger (Rux Martin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016).


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