My Chinese sauteed cabbage is a quick and satisfying veggie dish for any occasion. The cabbage is tender and slightly sweet, while the vinegar and fresh aromatics lend pops of flavor.
Chinese Sauteed Cabbage: My Go-To Veggie Dish
Home cooking in China relies a lot on quick, healthy dishes that use fresh veggies, and this one is a perfect example. It uses fresh cabbage, garlic chili peppers, oil, and a sauce of five ingredients to create a dish that is surprisingly delicious.
When I was growing up my mom would make a couple of dishes like this one every day. Speed and simplicity are really important to keep the routine from becoming exhausting.
Nowadays, I follow my mom’s example and cook this dish all the time because it’s among the tastiest and easiest dishes to make. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really a handy recipe!
Convenience to Make on Demand
Another thing I love about the recipe is that it is super convenient because practically all of the ingredients are pantry staples.
It does use fresh cabbage and garlic, but those two ingredients stay good for a pretty long time – literally weeks if you keep the cabbage head whole and pull off only the leaves you need.
More often than not, I have a head of cabbage in the fridge so I’m ready to whip this up at any time.
Getting the Best Flavor from Simple Ingredients
To maximize the potential of this dish we need to do three things: cook the cabbage properly, infuse the oil with aromatics, and make a balanced sauce.
Cook the Cabbage to the Right Doneness
I know that it’s common in many Western dishes to braise cabbage until it is very tender, for example in soups, stews, or with corned beef. We’re going to cook it a bit less than that. Sauteeing it too long can make it mushy and give off weird aromas – we want it just barely tender and still sweet.
Infuse the Oil with Aromatics
The first cooking you’ll do in the recipe is actually frying the Sichuan peppercorns, then the chili and garlic, in the oil. This gives the oil a ton of flavor and makes your room smell amazing.
Once the oil is infused with these flavors, the cabbage, which gets cooked in the oil, takes on the aromatic flavors and you’ll have great tasting cabbage.
Make a Balanced Sauce
The sauce of Chinese sauteed cabbage here follows a common flavor profile in Chinese cooking – umami-sweet-sour. We’re not talking Panda Express style, though. We’re using just a touch of sugar and a balance between umami and sour.
Tips for Making Chinese Sauteed Cabbage
Cut the Cabbage Properly
This method, shown in the accompanying photos, will help the cabbage cook evenly and to the right tenderness.
- Cut the cabbage into quarters
- Slice out the stem and center “core” and discard it – it’s too tough
- Separate the outer layers and cut them into triangles
- The inner layers will be a bit thicker and may be harder to separate – cut this part thinner
Keep Quality Pantry Ingredients on Hand
In such simple dishes, it can make a big difference what kind of soy sauce, vinegar, and aromatics you use. Here are some of my favorites:
- For soy sauce, the ones from Pearl River Bridge are very tasty and tend to be quite affordable too. Their “Superior” line is my go-to for everyday cooking.
- The vinegar I recommend for this one is actually the clear rice vinegar rather than the more-common-in-China Chinkiang Vinegar. Mizkan is a good one. Make sure the vinegar you use isn’t “seasoned” and that it doesn’t contain salt.
- I love the dried aromatics (chile peppers and Sichuan peppercorns) from The Mala Market. Imported direct from Sichuan, they are the freshest and most flavorful you’ll find outside of China.
Chinese Sauteed Cabbage with Vinegar Sauce (醋溜卷心菜)
- 1/2 small head cabbage , yield about 1 lbs / 450 g once cut (*Footnote 1)
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce (or soy sauce)
- 1/2 teaspoons dark soy sauce (or soy sauce) (Optional) (*Footnote 2)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
- 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 to 3 dried chili peppers
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and stir to mix well.
- Cut cabbage into bite size pieces by cutting the whole head of cabbage into half, then quarters. Place one of the quarters cut side down, tilt the knife to slice off the stem and discard it. Separate the outer few layers of leaves, then cut them into bite-size pieces. Then chop the center thicker into smaller pieces.
- Add peanut oil and Sichuan peppercorns into a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Cook until the Sichuan peppercorns turn dark but not burned. Scoop out the peppers into a small bowl, then discard them.
- Add the chili peppers and garlic. Stir a few times to release the fragrance.
- Add cabbage. Stir and cook until the leaves just start to turn tender.
- Stir the sauce again to dissolve the cornstarch thoroughly, pour into the pan. Continue to stir and cook until the cabbage turns tender but still crispy, and the sauce has thickened.
- Turn off heat. Carefully taste the cabbage and adjust seasoning by adding more salt, if necessary. Drizzle with a bit of sesame oil and stir to mix again. Transfer everything to a serving plate.
- Serve hot as a side dish.
- I used a small head about 2 lbs 7 oz. / 1 kg. To get the best result, find a young cabbage with loose leaves and the surface of the leaves is pale yellow green, tender in texture, quite smooth and a bit shiny on the surface.
- Dark soy sauce adds a nice brown color to the sauce and a light caramelized taste. Alternatively, you can use 2 tablespoons and 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce to replace both light and dark soy sauce.
Some More Easy Veggie Dishes
- Bean Sprout Stir Fry
- 4-Ingredient Baby Bok Choy Stir Fry
- 3-Ingredient Garlic Broccoli Stir Fry
- Chinese Cauliflower Stir Fry (干锅菜花)
Questions and Reviews
What a fantastic way to cook up cabbage! Love it! I may just pick some up at the store today 😉
I love black vinegar, it really helps to “open up” the appetite and I can eat so much more *oooops*. This is definitely a stir-fry dish I’ve got to try, looks really delicious!
I totally agree that black vinegar is an appetizing seasoning! When I add them to the veggies, I do eat more, and I think it’s a good thing! 😉
I’ve made the cabbage dish a number of times and I like to add a little extra black vinegar- YUM!! Thank you for the recipe!
A little extra black vinegar sounds great to me! This is such an easy dish isn’t it?
Over the years, I must have read Thousands of recipes, many of them of Chinese cuisine, and have frequently been annoyed by their lack of detail and clarity.
Since subscribing to your blog and website, I have been repeatedly pleased by your meticulous attention to detail. Thank you.
Please continue to spread the culture of real Chinese home cooking.
BTW, do Chinese home cooks ever prepare traditional Dim Sum dishes?
Thank Mickey for your kind words 🙂 I found recipes for cooking Chinese food can be confusing, even when they’re written in Chinese. So I tried to make them clear, as much as possible.
To answer your question, yes and no. Dim Sum food is a large genre that includes many dumplings and noodle dishes, which we do cook them for daily meals. But if you’re talking about Cantonese style small dim sum dishes, we only order them in restaurants. It’s way too much trouble for home cooks.
I made this tonight, and it was delightful! Good balance of flavor and makes cabbage surprisingly delicious
Killer recipe! I opted for about 3/4 the sauce a d more peppercorns and chiles (i have a problem 😅) and it was so insanely good. You can suit it to your own tastes! It is definitely key to chop the outer leaves with consideration as I ended up with some that were a little too big. I will definitely make this again.
Absolutely loved it!!! I did use the black vinegar because it was a recent purchase and I liked the taste along with two teaspoons of a umami topping called “crunchy garlic with chili oil”. I didn’t have the type of chili’s you recommended so used two deseeded Arbil chili’s which gave it a nice bite, but will definitely get some lantern chili’s. Look forward to trying your other recipes. Thank you!
Great flavors! Thank you for the recipe.
When I tried the first bite I was unimpressed, but boy, the more I ate it, the more I loved it. It’s actually bursting with flavor! I had to add a few pinches of salt by the end of the cooking process, but it had just the right amount of spiciness and sweetness that kept me coming back for more. I’ll be making this recipe again for sure!
Absolutely delicious! We always get a bunch of cabbage in our CSA and this recipe hit the spot! Tangy with a little heat. I doubled the sauce because our head of cabbage was medium.
Thanks for this easy recipe! How do I make the cabbage less bitter? I avoided the hard bits. But somehow it is bitterish. Any tips:)?
When you purchase cabbage, it helps to pick up smaller heads with the leaves in a lighter color. The cabbage usually tastes less bitter when it’s younger.
I’ve heard that you can eliminate some bitterness by sprinkle sauce on the leaves, then rinse off with water before cooking. I haven’t tried out the method yet. I think it should work (we use the same method to get rid of bitterness from bitter melon).