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$300 loan.
Sauteed cabbage with ginger and lentils is pictured on a plate.


  •  3 tbs. peanut oil
  •  1⁄4 tsp. black mustard seeds
  •  1⁄4 tsp. cumin seeds
  •  1 heaping tsp. small Indian yellow lentils
  •  2 small dried red chilies such as arbol, stemmed and broken in half
  •  10 to 20 fresh curry leaves (optional)
  •  1⁄2 medium-size white onion, finely minced
  •  1 tsp. ground turmeric
  •  1 lb. green cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped into 1⁄4-inch pieces
  •  1 piece fresh ginger, 1-inch long, peeled, very thinly sliced and cut into fine matchsticks
  •  1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
  •  4 tbs. finely grated fresh coconut or grated dried coconut

Heat the oil in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, but not smoking — it should appear shimmery — toss in the mustard seeds and begin sliding the pan back and forth over the heat. The mustard seeds will start to pop and sputter within 30 seconds. When nearly all of the mustard seeds have popped (just a few seconds more), remove the pan from the heat for about 30 seconds to cool slightly.

Return the pan to medium heat and add, in quick succession, the cumin, yellow lentils, red chilies and curry leaves (if using), distributing them evenly in the oil with a spatula or spoon. Sauté until the yellow lentils begin to turn a deep gold and the curry leaves have picked up translucent spots, about 45 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it’s soft and limp and no longer raw, two to four minutes, reducing the heat if necessary to make sure that it doesn’t change color and become golden. You want the onion to remain white. Add the turmeric and stir well to mix.

Add the cabbage, ginger and salt, and vigorously stir everything with the spatula, making sure that the cabbage is tinted an even yellow color from the turmeric. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Gently cook the cabbage, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until it’s cooked through and slightly translucent, about seven minutes. Taste a few pieces. They should be crunchy tender to the tooth, neither firm nor mushy. Add the coconut, stirring well to combine. Taste for salt, and add a pinch more if needed.

Transfer to a serving bowl or plate. You may remove the broken chilies if you prefer, though I like cautiously crunching down on them. Let the cabbage rest for at least five minutes before eating; this dish should be served warm to room temperature, since its flavors are muted by heat. It will make an excellent leftover for the next day.

Recipe excerpted from Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking From the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore by James Oseland (W. W. Norton and Co., 2006).

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