More than 20 years ago, I lived in an odd little shared house in Oakland, and one of the other renters was a guy named John, from one of the Caribbean islands. Sad to say, I can't recall which island (possibly Barbados?), but I do remember that he moonlighted in a steel drum band, and we would often cook simple dinners together and hang out in his room watching Golden State Warriors games.
He had this unlabeled bottle of hot sauce that friends would smuggle in when they came from home, and it was unlike any other I'd tasted. There was lots of chili heat, but almost an equal hit of mustard, so much so that the sauce was yellow. Probably similar to this bottle of Lottie's. This sauce could be used at the table, but what I loved even more was how he cooked with it.
The first thing to go in the pan with the oil was always minced onions and brown sugar. After the sugar caramelized a bit, in would go the hot sauce. Then the main ingredient, whatever it was, would be fried in this intensely flavored base.
I don't have this type of hot sauce on hand, and you probably don't either, so I decided to see if I could get a similar result by building the sauce directly in the pan. I liked the result a lot; it was hot, sweet, full of spice, and quite close to how I remember the taste of John's cooking. Today I used this technique on napa cabbage, but you could adapt it to just about anything from potatoes to paneer. Okra would be amazing.
I served this cabbage with dhal puri roti (an Indo-Caribbean flatbread filled with yellow splitpea dal), and Jamaican rice & peas.
I'd love to hear from anyone who is familiar with this style of cooking that begins with sugar and hot sauce in the pan. Are there other niceties to this technique? Is it particular to certain islands?
Island Style Sweet and Spicy Cabbage
Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free
Serves 4 as a small side dish
5 minutes active, 15 total
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 medium white onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno, thinly sliced (or some part of a habanero or scotch bonnet if you dare)
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 heaping tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard (double check if you need gluten-free)
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- several grinds fresh black pepper
- 1 head napa cabbage, cut across the head in 3" wide ribbons
- In a wok or large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over a medium high flame. Add the brown sugar and onion, and cook for 1 minute; do not let the sugar burn.
- Add the garlic, jalapeno, ginger, mustard, vinegar, thyme, salt, and pepper; stir and cook for a couple of minutes until it is thick, dark and fragrant.
- Add the cabbage. Stir it through the sauce, and cover and cook for 3 minutes. Remove the lid, stir again, and then cook until tender. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve immediately.