Sometimes trying to stick with a vegan diet, you can hit a wall trying to come up with new and exciting things to cook. Today was one of those days for me. It didn’t help that my fridge and cupboards were like Old Mother Hubbard’s, so there wasn’t much to choose from either. A giant head of cabbage, a couple of small potatoes, some red and green peppers and half dead okra was about all I could find during the fridge shakedown.
I remembered my mom would prepare cabbage very simply by steaming it in an inch or two of water with just a sprinkling of salt as a side dish. I guess it could be considered poaching since the cabbage is actually partially in the water but let’s not get lost in specifics. The end result would magically have an underlying sweetness one would not expect from the product or the technique’s simplicity.
Since I didn’t have much else to work with, and my belly was screaming for attention, I decided to take that magical simplicity and build on it to create a slightly more elaborate version and make it the star of the show since there was no other talent available.
Rather than just water, I decided to add red split peas (quick cooking split peas) and curry powder to make a thin dhal; fortify it with some vegetables and aromatics, then add the cabbage to slowly steam (or stew at this point) and hope it would still impart the inherent sweetness it is supposed to reveal using this cooking method.
The end result was nothing short of amazing. Apart from being very budget friendly and exceptionally wholesome in its nutritional value, the flavor satisfied the savory element my stomach craved and was surprisingly filling.
It’s also the gift that kept on giving, because re-heating it the next day for lunch revealed an even deeper flavor profile than the initial finish, with the dhal now thick enough to serve over steaming hot white rice or a hot roti.
Who said eating vegan, or on the cheap had to be boring?
1 Large Cabbage -quartered
4 whole new Potatoes
10 whole Okra, tip and tail removed
¾ cup red Split peas (red lentils)
8 cups Water
3 Tablespoons Coconut oil
2 sprigs fresh Thyme
2 Tablespoons Curry powder
4 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
½ cup Onions, med dice
½ cup Tomatoes, rough chopped
½ cup red Bell peppers, med diced
1 teaspoon fresh Ginger, minced fine
½ teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper, minced
Pinch of powdered Hing (optional)
In a large saucepan over medium heat add coconut oil. Add onions, bell peppers, scotch bonnet pepper, ginger and garlic. Sauté for 1 minute then add curry powder and mix well for another minute. Add tomatoes, split peas, hing and water. Bring to a boil then add potatoes. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Lower the heat and add okra and the cabbage. Cover and simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, then turn the cabbage over to submerge the other side in the curry and continue cooking for 15 minutes more. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly and serve, spooning the curry sauce over the cabbage along with the potatoes, okra and peppers.
OPTIONAL: Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and/or tamarind sauce.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.