In which an old ingredient learns new tricks: Cabbage Stir Fry. Thinly sliced cabbage sautéed with ground chicken (or with beef) and carrots in a light and flavorful Chinese-inspired stir fry sauce, this quick, healthy dinner will have you rethinking the possibilities of our friend, Mr. C.
Although cabbage is a common ingredient in Asian main dishes (both vegetarian and meat-based), the idea of using cabbage to make a healthy stir fry didn’t occur to me until recently.
I usually think of cabbage as an “on-the-side” situation.
Sautéed Cabbage. Cabbage Steaks. Asian Cabbage Salad. All are tasty, but none are a traditional main event.
Cabbage’s long shelf life (it can last several weeks in the refrigerator) and budget-friendly price tag have made it a popular ingredient in our home as of late, so I decided to see what more I could do with it.
And since “what more I could do with it” most often materializes as “ME HUNGRY, MUST EAT NOW!” that “more” followed the easy dinner path of least resistance: stir fry.
A Delicious Way to Cook Cabbage
If you’ve found cabbage suspect up until this point, cabbage stir fry will make a believer out of you.
- While raw cabbage can be bitter, when sautéed as it is in this stir fry recipe, it becomes caramelized, lightly sweet, and tender. You’ll hardly recognize it.
- Low carb lovers especially will rejoice. Twirled on a fork, the thin strands of cabbage reminded me of noodles.
In fact, by my second serving, I skipped the rice I’d planned to serve with the stir fry entirely. The stir fry cabbage is entirely satisfying on its own.
A Special Ingredient to Elevate Your Cabbage Stir Fry
Our kitchen is no stranger to clean-out-the-fridge stir fry situations—Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry, Tofu Stir Fry, and Easy Chicken Stir Fry with Vegetables and Mandarin Oranges are but three of many.
What makes this recipe special (other than its namesake addition of cabbage) is a new spice I’ve never used in a stir fry before but that sets it apart: ground cloves.
Now, it might sound like I just opened my spice cabinet, closed my eyes, and grabbed the first container within reach, but there’s a method to my madness.
- Cloves are a key ingredient in Chinese five spice powder.
- Since Chinese five spice is a lesser-stocked ingredient in many U.S. homes, I wanted to see if I could create a stir fry with its subtle, warm effect, without asking you to purchase a new spice you might only use once or twice a year.
If you do own Chinese five spice powder, by all means feel free to use it here. If you were looking for an excuse to buy it, this cabbage stir fry is a good one. (Use about 1 teaspoon and omit the cloves).
And if neither of the above applies to you, use ground cloves. You’ll be pleased with the results.
Two Asian pantry staple ingredients I do insist you buy are low sodium soy sauce (or gluten free tamari or coconut aminos for our Paleo friends) and rice vinegar.
These two, along with fresh garlic and ginger, will open you to just about every one of the healthy stir fry recipes you can find here.
How to Make Cabbage Stir Fry
This recipe calls for basic green cabbage, which is inexpensive and widely available. It looks like a large orb and has wide, pale green leaves.
- This recipe would also work with red cabbage (no changes to the recipe needed).
- If you are looking for something to do with Chinese cabbage (also called Napa cabbage) you can use it to make stir fry. Not that since it is more tender, it will cook more quickly.
- Ground Chicken. I chose to use ground chicken in this recipe, since it’s lean and versatile. In addition to chicken, beef and pork go well cabbage, so feel free to swap out the ground chicken for a lean version of one of these or for ground turkey.
- Cabbage. The unexpected stir fry star! Once cooked, the cabbage is delightfully tender and coated in the rich flavors of the sauce and spices. Cabbage also brings oodles of Vitamin-C and potassium to the dish (read more about cabbage here).
- Carrots. An easy and healthy way to bring color to the stir fry. Carrots are rich in Vitamin-A and fiber (see more health benefits of carrots here).
- Ground Cloves. My sneaky spice addition that adds warmth to the dish.
- Garlic + Ginger. Essentials for the best stir fry flavor.
- Red Pepper Flakes. For a pinch of spice. If you prefer less spice in your stir fry, you can scale it back.
- Stir Fry Sauce. Soy sauce, maple syrup, and rice vinegar coat every ingredient in a rich blend of umami/sweet flavors. It will keep you coming back for more (and more!).
- Green Onions + Cilantro. For a finishing touch of freshness.
- Add the garlic, ginger, and spices to one bowl, and add the stir fry sauce ingredients to another.
- Cut the cabbage (check out the section below for tips on how to cut cabbage for stir fries).
- Brown the chicken, stirring in part of the soy sauce.
- Saute the cabbage and carrots.
- Pour in the sauce ingredients, cover, and cook until the cabbage is wilted.
- Add the green onion, cilantro, and chicken. ENJOY!
How to Cut Cabbage for Stir Fry
To make sure that the cabbage is tender and caramelizes in your stir fry, the key is to slice it thinly.
- Slice off the stem end of the cabbage head so that you have a sturdy base.
- Cut the cabbage in half starting from the top and working towards the bottom, cut end.
- Lay the cut side down on the cutting board so that its flat surface is touching the board.
- Cut each piece in half again.
- Turn each resulting quarter piece crosswise, and cut it into thin strips (about 1/8-inch thick). The strips are ready to be used in the stir fry!
Cabbage Stir Fry Storage Tips
- To Store. Cabbage stir fry can be stored in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Gently rewarm stir fry in a large skillet or wok on the stovetop over medium-low heat. Add a splash of rice vinegar to perk the cabbage back up.
- To Freeze. Leftovers can be frozen in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. The cabbage texture may change a bit, but the flavors will still be tasty.
What to Serve with Cabbage Stir Fry
While this recipe is delicious served on its own, here are a few ideas of what you could serve with it:
- Rice. A side of brown, white, or cauliflower rice would be delicious with this stir fry.
- Noodles. Try it with brown rice noodles for a tasty, filling meal.
- Veggies. Take your vegetable servings up a notch with a side of Roasted Frozen Broccoli.
More Healthy Stir Fry Recipes
Recommended Tools to Make Cabbage Stir Fry
This super tasty stir fry was such a hit, I’m wondering what other ways I should be cooking with cabbage. If you have any favorite ways to use it in addition to stir fry, I’d love to hear about them below.
And if you try this cabbage stir fry with chicken (or any other protein), please leave a comment below to let me know how it turned out for you! Your comments and ratings mean so much to me and are helpful to others too.
Cabbage Stir Fry
This quick, healthy cabbage stir fry features chicken or beef and thinly sliced cabbage cooked in a light and flavorful stir fry sauce. Easy and delicious!
Servings: 6 servings
- 5 cloves minced garlic – about 1 1/2 tablespoons
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes – if highly sensitive to spice, reduce to 1/4 teaspoon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce – divided, plus additional to taste
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 small cabbage – about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil – divided
- 1 pound ground chicken – lean ground beef, ground pork, or ground turkey
- 2 cups shredded carrots – about 10 ounces or 4 medium
- 1 small bunch green onions – finely chopped (about 6 small)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro – leaves and tender stems, chopped
- Prepared brown rice or brown rice noodles – for serving (optional—omit to make low carb; I love this stir fry on its own!)
In a small bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and cloves. In a separate bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, the rice vinegar, and the maple syrup. Keep both close by.
Cut the stem end off of the cabbage. Next, cut it in half from the top of the cabbage down through the stem. Place the flat, cut side against the surface of your cutting board, then each half into quarters (again, from the top down towards the stem). Turn each quarter crosswise, then cut into thin, 1/8-inch strips. Keep handy (I like to pile my cut cabbage into a bowl as I go).
Heat a large, deep skillet, Dutch oven, or wok with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Once hot and shimmering, add the chicken. Cook, breaking up the meat. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Continue cooking until the meat is fully cooked through and any liquid that has collected in the pan has mostly cooked off, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl. Make sure you have the skillet lid handy.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Add the cabbage and carrots. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is just starting to wilt.
Add the soy sauce mixture. Cover the skillet and cook over high heat for one minute, until the cabbage is completely wilted but isn’t mushy.
Uncover, and stir in the green onion, cilantro, and reserved chicken. Let cook 30 additional seconds. The cabbage should be crisp tender (if it’s not, cook it a bit longer). Serve hot with rice or noodles and an extra dash of soy sauce as desired.
- TO STORE: Cabbage stir fry can be stored in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm stir fry in a large skillet or wok on the stovetop over medium-low heat. Add a splash of rice vinegar to perk the cabbage back up.
- TO FREEZE: Leftovers can be frozen in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. The cabbage texture may change a bit, but the flavors will still be tasty.
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