This is not the first time I’ve set out to prove that if you have a head of cabbage, 20 minutes, and some pantry staples, you have a meal (see: pickled cabbage stir-fry, white beans and cabbage), but it bears repeating because this dish is so surprisingly good and involves so few ingredients. And in addition to costing under $1 per serving, it’s versatile—B. had leftovers the next day on bread with a fried egg on top and declared them even better than the night before. It may not be the photogenic bowl of food, but part of this is because the cabbage is so well-cooked and deeply flavored that it doesn’t even look like cabbage anymore, let alone taste like it.
Recipe adapted from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s “Hot Salty Sour Sweet.” As below it makes about 4 servings.
• 1 head cabbage, finely shredded: $1.34
• 3-4 oz. bacon, sliced: 51 cents
• 1/4 cup oil: 12 cents
• 6 slices ginger: 30 cents
• 3 star anise pods, broken in half: 3 cents
• 6 whole dried Thai chilies: 4 cents
• 8 cloves garlic, chopped: 8 cents
• 2 tsp soy sauce, or more to taste: 10 cents
• 1 1/2 cups dry white rice: 25 cents
• Salt: 1 cent
TOTAL: $2.77/4 = 70 cents/serving
Cook the rice however you normally cook rice (I use a rice cooker with a ratio of 2x water to rice).
Heat the oil in a large wok or very large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered and starting to crisp. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the chilies, ginger, and star anise and stir for a few minutes (2-3) to flavor the oil. Increase heat to high and add the cabbage and a pinch of salt. Cook until starting to wilt, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the soy sauce and cook, pressing cabbage against the sides of the wok or bottom of skillet, until cabbage is completely wilted and has that high-heat “wok smell,” like really good Chinese food. Add more soy sauce to taste, if desired. (I didn’t think it needed any.)
To serve, portion out rice. Pour a little soy sauce over the rice and top with cabbage. To eat, stir the cabbage into the rice.
The ginger, chilies, and star anise can be picked out.