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.
Last modified: 
11 Jun 2019 - 06:22

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