The return of the Test Kitchen feature puts to the test a recipe from New York Times food writer Mark Bittman’s new cookbook, “The Food Matters Cookbook” (Simon & Schuster, $35). The recipes are perfect for me right now because I feel like I’ve been eating a lot of rich restaurant food, and Bittman’s recipes are simple and healthy, focusing a lot on vegetables.
In the poll, it was a close race between the Baked Rigatoni (33%) and Noodles with Spicy Cabbage and Pork (35%), but as you can see the noodles dish won out. (Grilled Turkey Hash was a distant third with 16%.) The dish definitely has an Asian influence, and it was interesting how his steps are different from how I traditionally prepare my Asian dishes. But I wanted to see what happens when I follow his recipe exactly as written, so here’s what happened:
First I browned the ground pork in a wok in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Typically I would marinade the meat with some soy sauce and sesame oil, but Bittman just simply wants to brown the pork with some salt. I got my ground pork from Safeway that was extra lean, so it didn’t extract that much fat or oil. And the little pieces kind of look like worms, huh?
I removed the ground pork from the wok, and then sautéed a tablespoon of minced ginger and another tablespoon of minced garlic. That sounds like a lot, right?
After about a minute I added in the 2 pounds of chopped Napa cabbage. Now, what’s odd about the recipe is Bittman says to add a 1/2 cup of water with the cabbage, which I did. But I know having cooked with Napa cabbage that this Chinese vegetable has a lot of water already. I was supposed to cook it for 15 minutes until softened and the water evaporates.
But after 15 minutes, there was a puddle of water still in the center. I actually had to take the wok off the stove top and physically pour out the excess moisture. With a vegetable with so much natural water, I wouldn’t have added the 1/2 cup of water. Also, I probably would have cooked the cabbage with a pinch of salt, but I guess Bittman was trying to keep it healthy and the seasoning was coming from the garlic and ginger, which is probably why there was so much of it.
To quickly finish up the dish, I threw in the pre-cooked soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles), the cooked pork, and 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, and for the spicy just 2 teaspoons of chile oil.
Here’s the final dish, garnished with some cilantro and lime wedges. What do you think?
My tips and warnings about this recipe:
- Like I mentioned, working with Napa cabbage will produce a lot of water. I would skip adding the extra 1/2 cup of water and just cook it with a pinch of salt to extract the natural water.
- The 2 teaspoons of chile oil wasn’t enough to live up to the “spicy” part in the name. I would add a bit more.
Taste: Well, even though you get some flavor from the soy sauce, the spicy part didn’t live up. In fact, I was thinking this would be a fun recipe to use kim chi instead of plain Napa cabbage (kim chi uses the same cabbage). Now that would be a spicy dish!
Overall grade: B-. This is definitely a simple recipe, but the potential for too much water could make the dish mushy or soggy. And nobody likes that unless you’re eating soup noodles.
Don’t forget to vote for next month’s Test Kitchen in the poll on the upper right column. For the featured cookbook, I selected the “Café Firenze Cookbook” from a Top Chef alumni, Fabio Viviani of Los Angeles. The cookbook was a gift from a friend who loved the photography, and I agree it is pretty slick. But do Viviani’s recipes hold up in taste? We’ll see next month.