Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Chinese Cabbage and Anchovy Stock

I knew that it was a risky move to give this post a heading like that. Two very unglamorous ingredients. They are so versatile and delicious yet under-appreciated. Before I go on to the recipe, bear with me while I introduce the stars of today's post.

Chinese Cabbage: This vegetable is related to the common cabbage and broccoli, and is of the same species as the common turnip. There are many kinds of Chinese Cabbages, that can be grouped based on size, shape, heading and non-heading. Wong Baak (Won Bok or Nappa; pictured) is the most “cabbage shaped” of the Chinese cabbages and is sometimes considered the boring cousin of the more popular bok choy. The tightly packed leaves of the Wong Baak are crinkly and lighter green than ordinary cabbage leaves. Sometimes, there appear to be tiny black spots on the leaves of Chinese cabbages. These are not signs of deterioration but occur naturally and are harmless. All Chinese cabbages have a milder, more delicate taste than green, red, or Savoy cabbages and are excellent for stir-frying and pickling (e.g. the spicy Korean fermented delicacy kimchi)

Anchovy stock: This is as common in Malay cooking (and probably most parts of Southeast Asia) as chicken stock is in Western cooking. In Malay cooking, anchovies (or ikan billis) are dried, rather than preserved in oil, which is more common in countries like Italy or Spain. There are many types of dried anchovies and they smell a bit strange if you are not used to it. At traditional fresh food markets in Singapore and Malaysia, it’s quite a common sight to see store vendors laying anchovies out in the sun to dry. Dried anchovies are used commonly as a soup base or for stir-fries. It is also deep-fried and served as a side accompaniment for this delicious coconut rice dish called “
nasi lemak”. You can also find anchovy stock granules which are more convenient to use. I like the Maggi brand because it has no MSG.

The Heart Healthy Meal

The combination of Chinese cabbage, zucchini and carrots in a clear anchovy stock is a meal that leaves me feeling healthy and fresh. I also usually add brown rice for a more substantial meal. The starch from the brown rice is also a natural thickener for the soup. This dish also brings out the best of the Chinese cabbage because I think it is more tasty and tender than the common cabbage, while being able to retain its crispness even in a soup dish such as this. This will be my contribution to this month's Heart of the Matter #4: Vegetables. Check out the round up of HotM #4 at the end of the month at Joanna's Food.

Wong Baak, Zucchini and Carrot in Anchovy Stock
Serves two

8 Wong Baak leaves, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1/2 cup brown rice
chopped scallions (spring onion) or chives, to garnish
Anchovy stock

For the anchovy stock:
10 dried anchovies, soaked in some hot water and roughly pounded with 2 cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle
2 heaped tspn of anchovy stock granules and 2 minced cloves of garlic thrown into boiling water

Prepare the anchovy stock using 3 cups of water.
Add brown rice and carrots to the stock and simmer till the brown rice is tender. Add more hot water if needed.
Add the cabbage and zucchini. Be careful not to overcook them since they do not require much cooking.
Serve immediately, garnished with some chopped scallions or chives.


Susan said...

Well, Nora, as I skimmed across all the bookmarked blogs I read, I was immediately intrigued by your title. I happen to like napa cabbage and anchovy broth. When I first had tom yung goong, I thought it smelled like old boots. I got over it. Now I have my own bottle of nam pla for that and pho.

Thanks for explaining the black specks on the cabbage; I'd wondered what was up with them. Great photo.

Cynthia said...

While the ingredients may been unglamorous, the combined flavours with the other ingredients of this dish makes it a winner.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Nora, I had a laugh with you - actually, the title got me very curious because I have never heard of anchovy stock. :)

The dish looks comforting and delicious!

Kelly-Jane said...

I never know what to do with Chinese cabbage, but next time I see one I'll pick it up and give it a go in stock. Thanks for the idea :)

Nora B. said...

Susan - I'm glad that you found my title catchy - I had considered calling it cabbage soup, but that would not do justice to this dish :-)
p/s: I've looked thru your recipe index and didn't see any thai cuisine...any thoughts about posting some thai recipes? I've not tried much thai cooking because I like thai take-out too much :-)

Cynthia - I'm glad that you think so too.

Patricia - a-ha! so you were curious too! It was delicious, but I wonder what you would think of anchovy stock. It smells funny sometimes if one is not used to it. I haven't tried serving it to my partner so far.

Kelly-Jane - Due to the rather mild taste of Chinese cabbage, you can pretty much throw it into any stir-fries too.

Anh said...

I love stock made from seafood. In my family, stock made from dried cuttlefish is a frequent. We love anchovy stock. Just that anchovies are not available in Northern Vietnam (my father thinks it's unfair since he loves fried anchovies!). I love your recipe. Now I have to hunt down all the ingredients!

Lucy said...

Your title made me hungry, Nora! I love anything salty and fishy and Wong Baak has such a fabulous texture.

Healthy yes, delicious, definitley. So pleased to have found your lovely blog. Especially as you're living in my home town!

Eva said...

Well, I have admit, too, that I've never heard of anchovy stock before! So nice to see an inviting dish that is actually good for you!

PS: I really admire how often you update your blog - I somehow can't manage these days...

Karin said...

I have never heard of anchovy stock. We eat quite a lot of anchovies in Scandinavia, you know. A type of Swedish sprat fillets canned in sugar and spice brine.

These fillets are called anchovies, although they are prepared from a small sardine-like fish sprat (Sprattus sprattus) and not from the genuine anchovy.

Susan said...

Yes, Nora, I do plan on Thai dishes at some point. My blog is pretty young, so I haven't been all over the map yet.

Truffle said...

Fantastic recipe and excellent use of underrated ingredients. I love it!

Nora B. said...

Anh - I have never tried dried cuttlefish stock, but we do eat re-hydrated cuttlefish and stir-fry it in chilli-garlic-onion paste. Your dad is definitely missing out - I love fried anchovies too - there is nothing else quite like it.

Thanks, Eva. I made this for lunch the next day after a big weekend (friend's wedding, family event). p/s: I have a bit more free time the last two weeks, but come July, you will see me get all stressed up because my schedule gets crazy yet again.

Karin - wow, that's really interesting. You've made me really curious about these Swedish sprat fillets. I wonder what it will taste like since it is in sugar and spice brine.

Susan - Oh yes, I didn't realise that you blog is quite young. With the way you write, it felt like you've had your blog for a while. I really enjoy your style of writing. I am looking forward to reading more.

Truffle - Thanks for the "support". I was afraid that I would scare everyone off with this recipe! ;-)

Nora B. said...

Lucy - I was happy to discover your blog, too! :-)

Freya and Paul said...

I think cabbage is so under-rated so I wasn't deterred at all! As for anchovy stock, well the nearest we have is anchovy paste so I think we could roughly approximate something similar.
Great recipe!

Nora B. said...

Thanks Freya. I love anchovy paste for making pasta. I'm glad that I didn't deter too many people with this post ;-)