On the Side

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On the Side is a cookbook I had no business purchasing. It’s all about side dishes, and I’m already the biggest proponent of side dishes. My favorite part of Thanksgiving are the sides. I have some turkey, but I love the sweet-tart cabbage, the garlicky sweet potato mash, and the crispy roasted Brussels sprouts.

So you don’t have to convince me that sides are important, but I bought it because I agree with the author, London-based Ed Smith.

From the author: “This book is for anyone who already realizes that the best bits of a Sunday roast are the trimmings. And for everyone else too – because you’ll see the light soon.”

Mr. Smith originally worked as a corporate lawyer, while also keeping a blog, called Rocket and Squash, to which I now subscribe. Eventually he became a chef, and worked in the food industry.

During this time he’s also been an observer, a student of food – “I’ve watched trends arrive, and some of them crash and burn; I’ve seen a million and one ways with chicken, hundreds of crumbles and nearly as many chocolate fondants. And yet, in all this time, barely a handful of side dishes. Which is madness.”


The dish I chose to make from the book is Chinese cabbage with black vinegar, which is called Chinkiang vinegar. It was an opportunity to try it, as well as Sichuan chile flakes, called Gochujaru.

Chinese Cabbage with Black Vinegar

1 Chinese cabbage
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar
2 teaspoons golden caster sugar
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
4 cm fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks
2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
1 teaspoon lightly crushed Sichuan peppercorns

Prepare all the ingredients first, as the cooking process is quick. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then each of those halves in two again. Cut out the core from the base of each quarter, then roughly chop the lengths into 5 or 6 pieces widthways.

Mix the soy sauce, vinegar and caster sugar together in a bowl and set aside. I can see why sugar is an ingredient. Black vinegar has a delightfully deep earthy flavor.

I divided the cabbage into two bowls – one with pieces from the root end, the other bowl with the thinner pieces.

Place a large wok over a very high heat, add the oil and allow it to heat almost until it smokes.

Drop the ginger onto the hot oil and let this soften for 30 seconds before adding the chili flakes and peppercorns, then pretty much immediately start to add the pieces of cabbage cut from the root end.

Stir fry for 30 seconds, before adding the softer top part of the cabbage. Cook for 45 seconds more, stirring occasionally, before pushing the cabbage to one side and pouring the soy sauce mixture in.

Quickly move the cabbage around for 20-30 seconds, then remove from the heat so that the cabbage takes on the flavors of vinegar and soy but retains its bite.

Serve immediately.


I served the cabbage alongside noodles topped with sesame seeds.

This cabbage is fabulous. The only different thing I would do is to use a grinder on the peppercorns.

The cabbage would be a great side to meatballs, tofu, shrimp, or beef. The next day I cooked a filet of salmon and it was a wonderful meal!