Bento filler: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried cranberries and balsamic vinegar


The title of this recipe says it all! In case you hadn’t noticed, quite a lot of Japanese recipes use a bit of sugar to make them a little sweet. That’s fine in moderation, but I’m always looking for sugar-free methods that still have that sweet-salty taste that I love. In this one there’s the sweetness inherent in fresh cabbage (which is especially strong in new spring cabbage), the dried cranberries, and the balsamic vinegar. It tastes great at room temperature so it’s a nice bento side.

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that is so good for you and lasts for a long time in the fridge, and dried cranberries and balsamic vinegar are good things to stock in a pantry. Garlic, I have on hand all the time. So I make this when I’m low on freshly bought ingredients and need something crunchy to fill a bento box corner. It goes well with rice or other carbs, since it doesn’t taste that specifically Japanese or Asian.

Recipe: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried cranberries and balsamic vinegar

  • 3 cups or so of roughly cut up cabbage leaves
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 2 Tbs. dried cranberries
  • 1-2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • Salt and plenty of black pepper

Heat a wok or large frying pan with the oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and let it fry until barely brown. Scoop out the garlic slices and set aside; return the oil to the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high.

Add the cabbage to the pan, with a little salt (which helps the cabbage to soften a bit faster since it draws out moisture). Toss and stir fry until a bit limp but still crispy - about 4-5 minutes.

Add the cranberries, and the balsamic vinegar (the more you add, the more sourness there will be, but even 2 tablespoons is not overwhelming).

Re-add the reserved garlic. Season with a bit more salt - make it just a bit salty, since when it cools down the salty flavor will become a bit muted. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Let cool before putting into a bento box.

This will last in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, well covered. It’s good hot too so you could make it for dinner and leave some for your bento the next day.


  • Use raisins instead of the dried cranberries.
  • Add some finely diced chorizo sausage, peperoni or salami to the oil before adding the oil. The chorizo will flavor the whole dish. You can omit the cranberries in this case if you like.

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nice photo! besides being a

nice photo! besides being a great cooker, you seem to be a great photographer. I wish I could say so!

This is off topic, but...

I thought people might enjoy seeing this ingenious new Japanese food creation!

That’s fantastic.

That’s fantastic.


Good recipe. I love cabbage, but never know what to do with it… this sounds like a great veggie stir fry for a weeknight with some brown rice!

What kind of cabbage do you

What kind of cabbage do you suggest? Or would it work equally well with all kinds?

any kind

silver, any kind of cabbage would work but I usually use a regular white cabbage or savoy cabbage if it’s available.

Nico yes they are a great quick meal besides being good for bento boxes!

kips yep those cucumbers are eh… too much (for food history buffs, the Victorians used to put glass tubes over their cucumbers to make them grow straight, since a crooked cucumber was deemed to be somehow lacking in morals!)


This looks wonderful! I am going to try it this weekend!

mmm salty and sweet

I recently made chicken sauteed with onions, raisins, olives and a little red wine. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. So I bet this is awesome, and I’ll be trying it soon with the raisins. Thanks.

Looks good

This looks delicious, especially since I love all of these things.

Just wanted to mention though, that most dried cranberries have some added sugar since they’d be too tart otherwise, so if you’re looking for something that’s entirely free of added sugar you might want to seek out unsweetened or juice-sweetened cranberries, or try a different fruit. Might be interesting with dried apricots or apples or even just some really huge thompson raisins….

Nice Fresh Food

A very enjoyable blog— thanks for a great read!

Wow! This is awesome!

I just made up a batch. I was amazed how simple and quick it was. And the tastes are so nice, a little sweetness and the vinegar go so well together. Thank you so much!

I wonder… Fresh or frozen

I wonder… Fresh or frozen cranberries could be used as well, right? Thanks for the good recipe, I think I’ll try it tomorrow (haven’t had any cabbages for ages… after over-eating them once).

I found your page and find

I found your page and find it a great tool for my beginning bento adventure. This is very good. Unfortunately I did not have dried cranberries, which I’m sure would have made it over the top. A little on the garlicky side, but that was okay as I’m sure it just kept my annoying co-workers at bay. Thanks for sharing!

Balsamic Vinegar

Do you have any recommendations for balsamic vinegar? I know it can be pricey…

balsamic vinegar

The short answer is - buy the best you can afford! The longer answer would be, try to get one that says it’s from Modena, Italy, and has been aged for some time. You’ll get more mileage out of a small bottle of good aged stuff, which will be a little syrupy, than a large bottle of cheaper stuff.

Re: Bento filler: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried ...

I saw this today after browsing through the recipes, I happened to have all the ingredients, so I made some =)

I used red cabbage and some frozen cranberries I had (which turned out awesomely tart in contrast with the cabbage) It turned out so beautifully and the red/purple was really enticing.

I didn't find it too garlicky, but I tend to add garlic like crazy. I used three cloves for the same amount of cabbage, and I sweat the cabbage with salt a bit before adding it to the pan, to draw out some excess moisture and pull in the flavor. I did use a bit of salami when frying up the garlic.

A+ recipe. Really awesome!

Re: Bento filler: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried ...

Great recipe! Can I substitute the balsamic vinegar for cider vinegar with a teeny bit of honey?

Re: Bento filler: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried ...

Easy, fast, delicious, visually striking, and versatile! Thank you.

Re: Bento filler: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried ...

Just made this as written and will need to make more since, the between the kids and myself, we've eaten nearly the whole batch! Thank you, it is delicious

Re: Bento filler: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried ...

I made this the other day and it turned out fantastic. I've gotten my sister into bento-making too, and I think I'll suggest making some more of this tonight. I'm not usually a fan of cabbage, but this sounded really good and I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

Re: Bento filler: Stir-fried cabbage with garlic, dried ...

Just tried this and have to say it will become a regular in my house. It was wonderful right out of the pan and expect it will be a very welcome addition to my Bento box :)

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