Annabel Langbein: Lighten up (+recipes)

By Annabel Langbein

Asian flavours and crucifers ease the transition to spring freshness.
Cabbage and any of the other crucifers make a great partner in the endeavour to lighten things up.
Cabbage and any of the other crucifers make a great partner in the endeavour to lighten things up.

My morning routine in Wanaka involves walking up to the vegetable garden, located, somewhat inconveniently, a good 300m up the hill. Along the way I can smell spring in the warm soil and real heat, on my back from the sun.

It's all so promising but, when I get to the garden, spring hasn't actually sprung yet. Yes, seeds are germinating in a blanket of the softest green, but in terms of things to pick, it's a bit of a Mother Hubbard scene.

With spring in the air, the thought eating of rib-sticking soups and stews feels far too wintry. Our appetites are honed and ready for fresher, brighter tastes (and, after a winter of hearty fare, we're likely decidedly pudgier and want to feel lighter too).

Cabbage and any of the other crucifers make a great partner in the endeavour to lighten things up. These include horseradish, rocket, radishes, watercress and the brassicas - broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy and all the cabbages. Stronger flavours are found in swedes, turnips, collards, kale and brussels sprouts.

Crucifers are highly nutritious and provide protection against a number of diseases. Such is their goodness that some years ago the World Health Organisation recommended that everyone should eat at least one vegetable from this family every day.

In my garden, the last of the winter cabbages are still hanging in there and, being one of the milder crucifer options, will please almost everyone. What better way to enjoy them than in these light Asian-inspired dishes?

Banh Mi Sandwiches

Ready in 20 mins + standing.
Serves 4-6

Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

¼ small cabbage, very finely shredded
1 carrot, grated
½ cup rice vinegar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 cups cooked chicken or turkey, shredded
1 spring onion, very finely chopped
2 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with ½ tsp salt
½ tsp five-spice powder
2 baguettes, halved, or 4 long rolls (ficelles)
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp Thai sweet chilli sauce
¼ cup coriander or mint leaves

Mix cabbage and carrot with half the rice vinegar, the salt and the sugar, and leave to lightly pickle for 30-60 minutes. When ready to use, drain and discard liquids. Place chicken or turkey in a bowl with remaining rice vinegar, spring onion, lime or lemon juice, garlic and five-spice powder and stir to coat. Split bread in half lengthwise, leaving one long side attached as a hinge.

Scoop out most of the soft centre. Mix mayonnaise and Thai sweet chilli sauce and spread over 1 cut side of bread. Pile turkey mixture on top, then drained cabbage mixture and finish with coriander or mint leaves to serve.

Annabel says: The colonisation of Vietnam by the French brought banh mi to the world. The baguette was introduced in the late 19th century by the French colonial rulers, and served with butter and preserves or sometimes in a savoury form with pate or ham and cheese. The Vietnamese started to include their own ingredients, evolving the famous sandwich we enjoy today.

Osaka Prawn and Cabbage Pancakes

Ready in 1 hour. Makes 10

Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

2 cups rice flour
2 tsp chicken stock powder or dashi stock powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda, remove any lumps
5 eggs
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tsp sesame oil
½-1 tsp chilli flakes, to taste
1¼ cups water
6 packed cups (350g) cabbage, finely chopped
1 cup kumara or carrot, coarsely grated
300g raw prawn meat, chopped
Neutral oil, to cook

To serve
½ tsp hoisin sauce (per pancake)
1 tsp Japanese mayonnaise (per pancake)
2 spring onions, finely shredded lengthwise
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage


Combine rice flour, stock powder, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Add eggs, ginger, sesame oil, chilli flakes and water and mix until smooth. Mix in cabbage, kumara or carrot and prawns.

There will be just enough batter to hold the vegetable filling together. Heat about 1 tsp oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and tip ½ cup of batter into the pan, pressing out to form into a thick pancake about 12-15cm diameter. Cook over a medium-low heat until filling is set and pancakes are golden (2-3 minutes each side). Stack on a plate in a warm oven while you cook the remaining pancakes.

Annabel says: In Japan these tasty little pancakes go by the name of okonomiyaki. To save time, use two pans to cook them.

Asian Noodle and Cabbage Slaw

Ready in 10 mins. Serves 4-6

Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
Photo / Annabel Langbein Media

150g dried pad thai noodles (about 5mm wide)
1 tsp sesame oil
100g snow peas, finely sliced
¼ cabbage, finely shredded
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 spring onions, sliced thinly
½ cup chopped coriander or mint leaves
½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds or nigella seeds
Thai Ginger Dressing
¼ cup Thai sweet chilli sauce
3 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated

To make dressing, shake all ingredients in a jar until sugar has dissolved. Cook noodles according to packet instructions, rinse under cold water and drain well. Place in a bowl,
cut into shorter lengths with kitchen snips and toss through sesame oil.

Pour boiling water over snow peas, drain at once, refresh under cold water, drain again and thinly angle-slice. Add to bowl with noodles and all remaining ingredients. The slaw can be made ahead to this point, covered and chilled until needed. When ready to serve, toss through the dressing.

Annabel says: Thinly slice the crisp white bases of bok choy stalks into salads to deliver a real crunch of freshness. With their mild flavour, they can be also finely chopped as a substitute for bean sprouts. Transform this simple salad into a main course by adding cooked chicken or prawns, or some pan-fried tofu for a vegetarian option.

BePure Live Well Festival

For more light and tasty spring recipes join me at the BePure Live Well Festival at The Cloud, Auckland waterfront, on October 15 and 16. On the Saturday at 2.45pm I'll be demonstrating quick and easy recipes that'll help you get more fresh seasonal vegetables into your day, and on the Sunday morning I'll be signing books and launching my new summer annual.

BePure Live Well is New Zealand's largest wellbeing event, offering everything you need to know about wellbeing in one venue. See livewellfestival.co.nz or to buy tickets, go to iticket.co.nz.

- Canvas

• For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com.

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