This Thai-spiced dish is a bit quirky and fun because you put the beef mixture into cabbage leaves that serve as edible serving vessels. It can also be maddeningly frustrating to eat properly, but hey, that’s part of the quirky fun. You can keep the leaves raw which will guarantee that they retain their shape, but I like a steam of a minute or two, to soften it and make it a bit more palatable. You can put some cooked rice or other grain in the bottom of the cabbage cups and top with the beef, in which case you’re moving into deconstructed cabbage roll territory. Some friends of mine, in fact, did roll their cups up, for ease of eating. You can vary the sauce, too. Make a beef-tomato sauce, or a beef-curry sauce. It’s all good.
6 – 8 cabbage leaves, or as required
1 T dark (toasted) sesame oil, dived
2 t sugar
salt, to taste
2 T lime juice, lemon juice, or orange juice (cut the sugar if you use orange juice)
1 T water
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes, or 1/4 t cayenne powder
2 t peeled, minced or grated fresh ginger
2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground beef, or other ground meat, or crumbled tofu or tempeh
1/2 c red onion, sliced into half-moons
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro, or basil, optional, but refreshing and tasty
2 T finely chopped, roasted peanuts, or 1 T peanut butter
1. Steam, if you like, the cabbage leaves for a minute or two. Do one first and see if it keeps its shape when placed on a plate. If it doesn’t reduce the steaming time.
2. Combine 1 t of the sesame oil, the sugar, salt, lime juice, water, and the red pepper flakes in the bottom of a large bowl. Reserve.
3. Heat 2 t of the sesame oil in a skillet. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté, stirring, for a minute, until fragrant. Add the ground beef. Cook, stirring and breaking the beef up into small pieces, until no longer pink in the center, about 5 minutes. If there’s a lot of fat, drain the beet or remove with a slotted spoon. Transfer to the large bowl and stir to combine with the dressing.
4. Add the red onion and cilantro, stirring to combine. If using peanut butter, stir that in too. Taste and add more of of whatever you may think is needed.
5. Spoon into cups, and if using chopped peanuts, sprinkle the beef mixture with them.