Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer Road Food: Thrown Together, Not Fussy.

Everyone should have a throw together meal.  You know, the type of meal that doesn't even need a recipe, that comes together in a matter of minutes, and is flexible enough to use up whatever odds or ends there are in the fridge.  If I was more of a fashionista, I'd make some dazzling simile, explaining to you that having a throw together meal is like having a throw together outfit.  That one skirt in your closet that makes you look thin, makes your legs look long, and goes with practically everything else in your closet.  It's the outfit that you always pack on trips.  I don't know about having a throw on and go outfit, but I do have a perfect throw together meal: Stir-fried Cabbage.  And, it seems to go with me on road trips quite frequently, too.

This meal is so easy, in fact, I whipped it up the night before we left for Virginia, and it made a light, healthy, and quick road lunch.  Traveling with food is not as difficult as most people think, and it really saves me from eating gas station junk food.  I've written about the merits of road-tripping with a cooler stashed in the backseat before, so I'll spare you my diatribe.  And, it's not as weird as you think to bring food along with you when you know you can't get good food where you're going.  My friend and fellow food writer Amanda, does the same thing.  Read about her food-smuggling adventures here.  Also, I can't claim complete credit for stir-fried cabbage, as I have adapted a technique that Molly Wizenberg of Orangette wrote about a couple of years ago.  At its simplest, Stir-Fried Cabbage is thin slivers of green cabbage, stir-fried in a wok at very high heat until it starts to caramelize a bit around the edges--imparting a lovely sweetness to the dish.  Then, it's finished off with a squirt of fiery Siracha and a glug of soy sauce.  You can leave it at that, but I rarely do.

For the dish pictured above, I added leftover chunks of roast chicken, some carrots, fresh snipped chives from the garden, and some toasted sesame seeds.  A drizzle of sesame oil never hurts either.

The spiciness of the Siracha plays well with the cooling/sweet properties of the cabbage.  The sesame seeds/sesame oil imparts a deep roasted, nutty flavor, and the chives brighten the whole thing up. Also, this is the type of dish that is great served at any temperature: hot from the wok, straight out of the icy cooler, or anywhere in between.

I think that this dish's utter unfussiness makes it a perfect summer dish, especially when I'd rather be lazing about in the sun with a guilty pleasure paperback than slaving over a stove. 

Stir-Fry Cabbage 

This is an infinitely flexible dish.  You can add whatever stray veggies you have on hand.  I like broccoli or bell peppers in this dish, also, for example.  Just remember to add the slower cooking veggies to the wok a minute or two before you add the cabbage so everything will be cooked through at the same time.  However, slightly undercooked veggies that have a bit of toothiness to them also taste delicious, so don't freak out about under cooking.  Sesame seeds or toasted almond slivers add a nice crunch, but they need to be kept separate until serving or they'll get soggy. 

1 cup diced carrots (or other veg) {optional}
1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 T. cooking oil (choose one with a high smoke point, like peanut or canola--not olive)
1 cup diced, cooked chicken
dash of Siracha to taste
dash of soy sauce to taste
dash of toasted sesame oil to taste {optional}
small bunch of chives, snipped into 1 inch pieces{optional}
handful of toasted almonds or toasted sesame seeds {optional}

Heat oil in wok over high heat until very hot.  Add carrots and other vegetables if using.  Stir-fry for a couple of minutes.  Add green cabbage and cook over high heat until the edges begin to brown and it's wilted through.  Turn heat down and stir in chicken, siracha, and soy sauce, tasting to adjust seasoning.  Finish dish with sesame oil, chives, and nuts/seeds. 

 Either eat immediately, or stash in the cooler.  Serves two very generous servings.

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