Family barbecues were a big part of celebrations in my family. My dad or my older brother would fire up the charcoal grill and soon, the irresistible aroma of my mum’s satay chicken skewers would waft through our house (and probably the whole neighborhood). Since then, I have always linked the scent of peanut sauce with barbecues, a summertime treat.
Grilled cabbage may not quite be the same as my mum’s skewered chicken, but it offers a comparably comforting canvas for the aromatic, crave-worthy peanut satay sauce. For this recipe, I grill cabbage wedges but if you prefer you can grill them in thick cabbage steaks as well.
The sauce is really a stand-out—it is nutty of course, but it’s also highly perfumed from the shallots and garlic, and also sweet from the kecap manis.
What is Kecap Manis?
Kecap manis is a foundational ingredient in Indonesian cooking, a sweetened aromatic soy sauce which has been sweetened with palm sugar, resulting in a dark, syrupy sauce with deep molasses notes.
It is a unique product that can be found at Asian grocery stores—if you can’t find it, you can substitute with a product called ‘sweet soy sauce’. In addition, you can also make kecap manis at home. Mix together equal amounts of soy sauce and palm sugar (or brown sugar), boil for 10-15 minutes, until syrupy and allow to cool completely.
It will thicken further as it cools. Store in the fridge.
The Peanut Satay Base
The peanut base is best blitzed in a high-speed blender or food processor. You can opt for a smooth blend, but I like my peanut satay with some texture, so I keep it slightly chunky.
No peanuts in the pantry? You can replace the peanuts with peanut butter. The exact amount of peanut butter will vary per brand (some are oilier while others are thicker) so start with 3/4 cup and add more until you get the right consistency.
For those who are looking for an alternative to peanuts, you can use roasted cashews in the sauce instead, which delivers a sweeter, milder finish.
Tips and Tricks for Grilling Cabbage
Let’s talk about cabbage. One of the most versatile vegetables, equally wonderful in slaws, as pickles, braised in a rich sauce or stir-fried with noodles.
It is also the perfect vegetable to grill because high heat imparts a beautiful smoky flavor. These wedges take a little time to cook, so after searing one side with high heat, flip it over, reduce the heat, and cover loosely with a piece of foil. The foil creates a steamy environment which allows the cabbage to soften all the way through, while the lower heat chars slowly, drawing out sweetness and tenderness.
You can use any variety of cabbage here— green, purple or savoy would all work. Napa cabbage would be nice too, though it has a higher water content and cooks quicker so be sure to adjust the grilling time accordingly.
The charred scallions bring a lovely, rounded sweetness to the dish—you could also substitute with leeks, spring onions, green garlic or red onions.
Try More Recipes from Hetty McKinnon, author of “To Asia with Love”
Grilled Cabbage with Peanut Sauce
- For the cabbage
- 1 (about 3 pounds) green or purple cabbage
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 4 scallions, white and green parts separated and cut into 5-inch piece
- Handful of cilantro leaves
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
- 2 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds
- 1 lime, cut into 4 segments
- For the peanut satay sauce
- 1/2 red chile, deseeded and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 large shallots, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
- 1 1/2 teaspoons neutral oil such as peanut or grapeseed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kecap manis
- 1 1/2 tablespoon palm or brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup water
- To garnish
- Sesame seeds
- Chopped peanuts
- Squeeze of lime
Prep the cabbage:
Remove any loose and discolored out leaves of the cabbage and if there is a long stalk, trim it slightly. Cut the cabbage in half through the stem and then cut each half into 4 equal pieces – you should have 8 wedges in total.
Place on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and scatter with a few pinches of salt and rub to coat both sides.
Grill the cabbage:
If you are using an outdoor grill, heat it to a medium-high setting. If you are using a grill pan on the stove top, place it on a medium-high heat.
When the cooking surface is smoking hot, place the cabbage cut side down and cook for 3-4 minutes until charred. Flip over and cover with a piece of foil (it doesn’t have to be completely covered I just drape it over the cabbage wedges and tuck it in around the edges).
Reduce heat to medium and cook for 8-10 minutes until the cabbage is tender. Check tenderness by inserting a bamboo skewer into a few of the leaves to make sure that it comes out easily. Remove from heat, scatter with some salt and set aside.
Grill the scallions:
Halve the white parts of the scallion lengthwise. On the same grill or grill pan add the white and green parts of the scallion, placing them separately as the greens will cook quicker.
Cook the green parts for 1 minute or so, and the whites for 2 minutes, until charred. Remove and set aside.
Make the peanut sauce:
Meanwhile, to make the peanut sauce, place the chile, garlic, shallots and peanuts into a blender or food processor and blitz until it becomes a chunky paste (you can add a splash of water to get the blender going).
Place a medium saucepan on medium-low heat, and add the oil and the paste, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the kecap manis, palm/brown sugar, salt and water. Stir for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is well combined.
Serve the cabbage wedges and peanut sauce:
To serve, spoon a little peanut sauce on a serving platter, top with the cabbage wedges and charred scallions and then dollop with more peanut sauce. To finish, top with cilantro leaves, sesame seeds, peanuts, and squeeze over some lime juice.