Here is a simple and most Szechwanese way to prepare that workhorse vegetable of Szechwan, Chinese cabbage. La baicai is a hot dish, and it has to be, for hot pepper paste is just about the only condiment it contains. Even Mrs.
Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage and discard. Wash the other leaves thoroughly, and then cut them crosswise into pieces about 1 inch wide.
Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat your wok or pan over a high flame for 15 seconds, then add the oil. It will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.
When the oil is ready, add the hot pepper paste and the cabbage. Use your cooking shovel or spoon to stir the cabbage around in the pan so all of it gets some contact with the hot oil. At first there may be so much cabbage in the pan that it will spill over the sides; it will reduce in volume as it cooks. Let the cabbage cook for 5 or 6 minutes, mixing it up gently every once in a while, tumbling it over from the sides into the middle.
Add the salt and the water. Cover the pan, without reducing the flame, and let the cabbage boil for almost 15 minutes.
(cornstarch and water)
Stir the cornstarch and water to make sure they are well combined, then pour the mixture into the cabbage. Stir-fry the cabbage over the same high flame for about 15 seconds, until the sauce has turned clear and thickened slightly. Serve immediately.
© 1976 Ellen Schrecker. All rights reserved.