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Chinese home-cooked beef and cabbage recipe shares roots with Southern fare

Authentic Chinese beef and cabbage is easy to make at home. Here it is over brown rice.
Authentic Chinese beef and cabbage is easy to make at home. Here it is over brown rice.
Photo by the author

As regular readers will already know from these articles:

authentic Chinese home-cooking has simple roots that share a lot in common with good, down-home Southern cooking like we love in Knoxville: good, simple ingredients and basic techniques that focus on the vegetables and use the meats mostly for flavor. Cabbage, featured in this recipe, is popular both here and there, West and East. Those readers will also know that making really great Chinese food at home is actually pretty easy, and it often results in better fare than you can find in the Americanized Chinese-style restaurants that are popular in and around Knoxville. All you really need is a wok, some direction, and the will to do it... and a little soy sauce.

This recipe calls for beef, although it is equally traditional to prepare it using pork. The keys to preparing the meat properly is to slice it very thinly, less than 1/8 of an inch, across the grain of the meat and then to cook it very quickly. The grain of the meat is the direction that the muscle fibers run, and so you want to look for those and slice across them, not with them. It is particularly easy to identify the grain in a cut of meat like flat-iron steak, which is the recommended type of beef for it's tenderness, ease of use, and great flavor, especially coming out of a wok.

Recipe: Chinese beef and cabbage - Ingredients:

  1. About 3/4 - 1 lb. flat iron steak, sliced thinly across the grain and cut to the desired length, about 2 inches or so;
  2. 1/2 medium onion, sliced horizontally into long strips about 1/4-inch wide;
  3. 1 medium head of Napa cabbage (all but the very end), sliced straight across in 1/2-inch wide pieces;
  4. 4-6 medium cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  5. 1 inch of fresh ginger root, cut into very thin matchsticks;
  6. 2 tbsp. (dark) soy sauce;
  7. 2 tbsp. red wine, rice wine, or sherry vinegar;
  8. Salt and black pepper to taste;
  9. Peanut or canola oil for cooking.
  10. 1 1/2 c. (precooked measurement) brown (or white) rice, steamed.


  1. To serve over brown rice, start that first because it takes nearly an hour. White rice should be started ahead of time as well and left in the pan with the lid on to keep warm. To make rice properly without a rice cooker: toast the rice in a hot pan until it starts crackling; add water according to the package instructions minus 1-2 tablespoons; let the water come to a full boil and continue for a few minutes; cover and reduce the heat to low and allow it to steam according to the package instructions (approx. 20 minutes for white rice and 40-50 for brown rice).
  2. Prepare all ingredients ahead of time once the rice is started. Try to time it so that you finish cutting everything up right around when the rice finishes cooking.
  3. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large wok over high heat. When it is hot, add the cabbage and onion and then some salt and pepper.  Stir the vegetables around until the cabbage starts to wilt significantly (3-4 minutes) and then remove it from the wok and set it aside.
  4. When the wok is hot again, add the beef and quickly salt and pepper. Begin to stir the beef and almost immediately add the garlic and ginger. Move everything around fairly vigorously until the beef is approximately three-quarters done (about 2 minutes).
  5. Before the beef is all the way done, add the cabbage mixture back into the pan. Let the mixture cook, stirring, for about a minute and then add the soy sauce and vinegar. Let the mixture cook, stirring, for about one more minute or until all the beef is just finishing.
  6. Serve hot over rice.

Note: Not all soy sauce is created the same. Regardless of type, soy sauce should only contain a few, simple ingredients: soy beans, wheat, water, and salt (and perhaps some preservative), and it should be fermented. Check the label. The Kikkoman brand is authentic soy sauce and can be trusted. Other popular national brands are not, so keep your eyes open and read labels.

Buy it locally! Whenever possible, keep your eyes open around Knoxville for these great ingredients. Good flat-iron steaks and Napa cabbage can be had typically at Knoxville-area Kroger stores, though higher-quality of each can be found at the Knoxville locations of The Fresh Market and Earth Fare. Dark soy sauce is available at any of the Asian markets in Knoxville and can be found sometimes at The Fresh Market or Earth Fare, or substitute Tamari soy sauce from the Asian-foods sections in any of the three grocery stores mentioned above (or probably in your favorite; it is widely available), though regular soy sauce works fine too.

If you enjoyed this article, then you'll probably enjoy more from the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner, so click here for a complete list. You can also subscribe to's free e-mail notification system by clicking "Subscribe" at the top of the page and entering your e-mail address. Each time the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner publishes a new article, you'll get a notification for free in your e-mail.

The Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner has published several articles about great local coffees and gourmet drinks to make with them, and now he'll be publishing those instead under another title: the Knoxville Coffee Examiner. Check those out! An original, special, don't-miss, award-winning mocha latte recipe featuring marshmallows can be found on the Knoxville Coffee Examiner's publication list or by clicking here!


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