We're getting to that dreaded point of winter. The point where I'm seriously stretching my poor interior brain parts to think of ways to survive on what's left of the winter vegetables.
I've already resigned myself to the fact that most of the available salad greens are coming from California. And there's little hope of finding a bright young sweet pepper that hasn't traveled all the way from Mexico just to hang with the (decidedly pastier) local mushrooms at our little Wisconsin food co-op.
I must admit that we didn't exactly stow away quite enough of the summer harvest to get us through the winter, so I've been anxiously perusing the grocery aisles to see what I can find that's... well... seasonal. Not a ton out there -- but sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised. One of the storage vegetables that we can seem to find from local sources well into February is cabbage. Thank goodness for the lowly petite au choux! I was even more thrilled when I picked up the latest issue of Bon Appetit magazine and found a recipe for a delightful stir fry inside. Not only did it use red cabbage, but it made use of another winter staple -- the sweet potato.
I wasn't convinced that I was in the mood for chicken, which was supposed to be part of the stir-fry, so I turned to a package of tofu from our local soy purveyor, the Simple Soyman. They make THE BEST nigari-style tofu I've ever had, and it's simply perfect when crisped up a bit and thrown into a stir fry. So, we went with that instead.
As I was glancing through our spice cupboard, I found a small jar of Szechuan peppercorns. They looked so lovely and peppery, I poured a few out and gave them a photo op.
Most recognized for the part it plays in Chinese five spice and Japanese seven spice powders, the Szechuan peppercorn is definitely worth seeking out. Really a seed from the prickley ash tree, this "peppercorn" offers both a unique flavor and aroma to any dish in which it is used. Not quite as pungent as black pepper, Szechuan pepper has a floral aroma and slight lemony overtones. Perfect for this dish, if I do say so myself.
We added a bit to the stir-fry to kick it up a notch, and I really liked the flavors it brought forward when paired with the sweetness of the potato. We threw everything on top of some soba noodles and called it dinner.
The whole affair turned out to be quite the lovely dish. The vegetables cooked quickly, which is a bonus on a weeknight. And the flavors warmed our winter bellies quite nicely while giving us a boatload of nutrients to boot.
I'd call that a bonus at this time of the year.
Original Recipe: Chicken Stiry Fry with Yams, Red Cabbage, and Hoisin (Bon Appetit, February 2009)
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