Pork and cabbage.
I was thinking aloud in the car, driving home from a party the other night, wondering what to do with extra ingredients rattling around in the fridge. I should have known that M. would know what to do with a pound of ground pork and a head of Napa cabbage. I had been thinking meatballs, ants-on-a-log, or noodles stir-fried with the pork and cabbage and perhaps some scallions, the day before when I wandered through the aisles of the supermarket. M. had another idea, a layered concoction of cabbage and sausage, baked in a covered dish, something from the Irish food writer Tamasin Day-Lewis. He sent me a link to the recipe, found on another blog. Called "Stuffed Cabbage in the Troo Style," it seemed promising, and I filed it away in my mind.
A few days passed. I ate leftovers as the Napa cabbage reproached me from the refrigerator shelves, like the skull of Hamlet's father. The pound of ground pork gleamed beneath tightly-stretched plastic wrap. I went back to the recipe, noted that there were two versions: the original, and the modified version. The recipe called for sausage; I had none, only plain ground pork. Modified, it called for fresh herbs; it was cold and gray out and I was too lazy to go to the tiny herb garden in my building's courtyard. (Efforts to grow herbs on my windowsill have all failed). I would turn to my Chinese upbringing, using the seasonings of my childhood and treating the dish like a giant dumpling filling.
The ground pork (Kurobota, from Uwajimaya) went into a bowl with a bunch of scallions (chopped finely), a couple glugs of soy sauce, grated ginger, some rice wine, freshly ground black pepper, 5-spice powder, and a dash of sesame oil. The cabbage was sliced up and tossed with Kosher salt, then left to drain in a colander, to draw out some of the moisture before cooking. (The original recipe calls for blanching the cabbage first, but it seemed unnecessary to me, and the blog writer agreed). I layered it in a small 1 3/4 quart Le Creuset pot, pressing firmly down on the layers of cabbage and seasoned pork (actually, it was kind of fun) to fit it all in. The tight-fitting, heavy lid made baking (parchment, I assume) paper superfluous, and the rich Kurobota pork eliminated the need for any extra butter.
After an hour in the oven, I could smell the seasoned pork and cabbage cooking slowly away. The shredded cabbage had melted into the pork, the entire thing shrinking slightly away from the edges of the pot. It looked like a huge meatball oozing with its own juices. I sliced off a big wedge and eased it onto a bed of rice, adding some of the sauce; it was soft and lush, comforting, savory, like a plate of dumpling filling without any dough wrappers getting in the way. I finished my serving, then another; wished I had someone to share it with. I'll make it again.