A West African-inspired cabbage dish that impresses


Of all the vegetables I cook the most, the humble kale might be my favorite. Not as boring as Brussels sprouts, sweeter than broccoli, more tender than cauliflower. I love pickling it, whether it’s in a vinegar brine or a flavorful kimchi-like ferment. And I’ve (like most of us) gone through my phase of fucking charred it and covered it in tahini sauce or yogurt. But the more I cook it, the more I get used to my favorite way of eating it: simmered in a delicious sauce until spoonfuls are tender.

My partner’s favorite cabbage dish, and my favorite cabbage dish to date, is a flat braised cabbage with cumin, coriander and tomato paste, then topped with a cool dollop of yogurt. My friend Andy Baraghani developed the recipe for Bon Appétit years ago; Since then, at the request of my partner, I have been trying to convince him with a cabbage dish.

I usually think of cabbage at this time of year because it’s in season, but also because of the upcoming holiday of St. Patrick’s Day and all the visions of corned beef and cabbage it promotes. And while I love this dish — and any that combines cabbage with salty or spiced meat — this year I’m looking much further south than Ireland for inspiration.

A decade ago, I learned how to make chicken mafé from Pierre Thiam, a Senegalese chef I was working with on a story about that country’s cuisine while I was at Saveur magazine. Now Thiam, the chef at Teranga in Harlem and Midtown Manhattan — the author of Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes From the Source to the Bowl — has taught me all about mafé, a stew made from ground peanuts used to braising anything can be from chicken thighs to lamb shanks. Dried, fermented seafood — which gives Senegalese dishes a deep spiciness similar to how fish sauce is used in Vietnamese or Thai dishes — is also often added, as are fresh Scotch bonnet chilies for heat that cut through the rich ground nuts.

When I ate Thaim’s version of Chicken Mafé all those years ago, I remember loving the cabbage wedges the most, which were added along with carrots, okra, and sweet potatoes to round out the meaty stew — their sweet but bold disposition complements that deeply savory sauce at best. So I made a cabbage version to orientate myself on my favorite part.

Roasting peanuts and grinding them into butter isn’t that difficult and makes a huge difference in this dish, so I encourage you to do the same. Once the nuts are ground, the dish is like any other pot roast or stew where you build the flavor from scratch. Onions, garlic and ginger are cooked until browned and soft, then tomato paste is added for a bit of caramelized sweetness.

Next, the peanut butter is simmered with broth until smooth and tossed with fish sauce (the most convenient substitute for fermented seafood, which Thiam says many Senegalese cooks also use), a Scotch Bonnet chili, and a bay leaf. Finally, the par-fried cabbage wedges come in and it all simmers in the oven until the cabbage is super tender and the sauce is reduced to a velvety smooth gravy.

The dish is wonderful as is, but I’ve found that a sauce of fresh coriander and lime juice works well to drizzle over. Its acidity permeates the rich peanut sauce and helps bring out the fruitiness of the Scotch Bonnet. The sauce isn’t essential, but my cilantro-hating partner loved it when he tried it and found it rounded off the dish perfectly. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement of his new favorite cabbage dish, I don’t know what is.

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Time2 hours

incomeFor 4 to 6 people A West African-inspired cabbage dish that impresses

Russell Falcon

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