Spicy Chicken & Cabbage Bowl

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I kept journals when I was a kid. I filled about 10 of them before calling it quits—there came a time when I realized it had become a chore to write. Months passed between entries, and it was difficult to remember everything that had happened. Being the perfectionist that I am, I felt guilt leaving anything out; omitting even a small memory felt like an incomplete version of the truth. And so, it seems, history has repeated itself here; I’ve been so concerned about covering every important event between posts that I end up not writing at all. I plan to focus more on the recipes from here on out, though if I find extra time I will certainly include stories and reminiscences. To those who enjoy the longer recollections (Mom, Dad), I apologize. But I will always pair a recipe with some musings, maybe just not an essay that covers details from two month’s time.

Last week Jonji found a wooden bench on Nextdoor that was only a block away, so one night at 9pm we carried it home between us. I was a bit grumpy after getting smacked in the shins a few times, and was therefore a little resentful towards our new garden resident. This afternoon I sat down on it, where it lives under the leafless plum tree, to write. Sunlight filtered through wintery branches as bird called to their neighbors. It was warm, and exceptionally peaceful. I suppose the shin smacks were worth it.

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I spent a lovely day at Mom and Dad’s yesterday, a welcome event after a week of feeling under the weather. Dad went on a croissant run, and when he returned we happily devoured them. If you haven’t tried Companion’s croissants yet, you’re missing out. We spent the afternoon outside in the warm weather, surrounded by Pip, the cats, and Lemon. A simple kind of day, but one that makes your heart happy.

Since I’ve been sick, all I’ve wanted are warm meals like chicken soup, mashed potatoes, or hearty, one-bowl meals like this one. It’s warm, with heat coming from both spice and stove, and full of bright flavors—perfect for any winter week night.

Jonji likes to take credit for an increased integration of spice in my diet. I’m not sure if he’s the one who convinced me to branch out, but I certainly do include much more than I used to (though I’m still a bit of a wuss). Gochujang, if you’ve never heard of it, is a Korean condiment made from fermented red chili that is both spicy and sweet. It’s easy to find in most stores because it’s been popularized in the United States relatively recently. We like to top these bowls with extra, even if it hurts just a little bit. If you can’t handle any spice (ahem, Mom and Bailey), you could leave out the Gochujang altogether, just be sure to add a little extra soy sauce or Worcestershire to the chicken. Mirin, a slightly sweet Japanese rice wine, is also an easy find in stores these days.

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Spicy Chicken & Cabbage Bowl
serves 3–4 hungry adults

olive oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 small-medium green cabbage, shredded
2 tsp mirin
2 tsp Gochujang, divided
1 tbsp peanut butter
2 tsp rice wine vinegar

5 smashed garlic cloves
1 lb ground chicken
1 tbsp Worcestershire
2 tbsp soy sauce
5 scallions, diced
1 tbsp sesame seeds
toasted sesame oil (optional)
salt

2-3 carrots, grated
chopped cilantro
cooked white rice (recipe below)
sauteéd mushrooms, like maitake or shiitake (optional)
Gochujang, to serve

Heat a large pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add a couple glugs of olive oil (roughly 2-3 tbsp) and 1 tbsp sesame oil. Once hot, stir in the cabbage. Cook for 5 minutes, until the cabbage starts to wilt, then stir in 2 tsp mirin, 1 tsp Gochujang, and 1/4 tsp salt. Turn the heat to medium low and continue cooking, stirring every now and then, for another 10 minutes, until the cabbage is nice and soft. Stir in the peanut butter and rice wine vinegar. Keep the cabbage warm on low heat until ready to eat.

Heat another couple glug of olive oil and 1 tbsp sesame oil in a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, toss in the smashed garlic cloves and let cook in the oil for about 30 seconds. Add the ground chicken and pat into one even layer while breaking it up with a spatula. Let it brown for a few minutes, then stir and break apart so that the chicken is evenly browned. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp Gochujang, the Worcestershire, soy sauce, scallions, and sesame seeds, and stir to combine. Sprinkle a little toasted sesame oil on top (optional). Let cook for another few minutes, until all the flavors are combined (just don’t dry out the chicken).

To serve: layer bowls with white rice, cabbage, then chicken. Top with grated carrot, cilantro, mushrooms (if using), and more sesame seeds. Bring the Gochujang bottle to the table with you. Enjoy!

Simple White Rice
makes about 2 cups

1 cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp coconut oil*

Bring a small pot of water to boil. Once the water boils, stir in the coconut oil until it dissolves, then add the rice. Stir a couple of times to ensure there’s no rice sticking to the pot. Cook at a gentle boil for 11 minutes, or until the rice is cooked but not mushy. Drain, add butter and salt, or simply serve it plain.

*The coconut oil is optional, but I’ve found that it lends a slight coconut flavor and results in a richer rice bowl. It is also supposedly better for us, but take that with a grain of salt—or perhaps a grain of rice.

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