photos by Ashleigh Amoroso
On our first date, Adam picked me up and whisked me away to… the diviest Chinese restaurant I’d ever seen. In hindsight, it was totally out of character for a guy who loves his high-end dining, but since we worked together at the time, we were kind of keeping things on the down low, and Sichuan Parlor seemed like a safe bet. Anyway, I found out something interesting on that first dinner together: the guy loves peking duck, that classic, crispy-skinned dish served with little pancakes, hoisin sauce, cucumber and scallions. Having never eaten it before, I was a little taken aback when the chef came out with an entire lacquered duck that he meticulously carved table side, but the garlicky, sticky sweet flavors quickly won me over.
During the first year we were married, I experimented to come up with a pretty good version of the dish, and even staked out the same thin little Chinese pancakes to serve with the fillings. However, through the years as we’ve adopted a healthier, more plant-based diet, my old recipe feels a little heavy for our current palettes (and requires way more time in the kitchen than I typically care to spend.)
I thought it would be fun to come up with a lightened up and truly healthy version that incorporated the same flavor combination that we loved so much, and these hoisin chicken cabbage tacos were born! I’d never used cabbage as the “wrapper” for tacos before, and it worked out even better than I’d imagined. Savoy cabbage leaves hold together way better than iceberg or other lettuce wraps, so you can actually stuff it full of filling and not worry about it falling apart on you. I blanch the leaves before serving to make them easier to chew and eliminate any bitterness.
I can’t wait to serve these at dinner parties all summer! They’re the perfect build-your-own entrée since guests can choose their favorite fillings and customize their “tacos” however they like. Plus, they’re gluten-free and can easily be made vegan (just nix the chicken and use more avo), so they really adapt to any dietary restrictions. When guests arrive, just arrange all the toppings on a pretty tray with the cabbage leaves, then let everyone fill, roll and eat!
An extra drizzle of hoisin sauce, plus a sprinkle of sesame seeds and cilantro makes these look gorgeous (and taste even better.)
The fillings can be completely prepped a few hours in advance and kept in the fridge — and last time I made them, I even used a store-bought rotisserie chicken to make my life really easy.
Even Adam says that these remind him of his beloved peking duck — and we can both agree that we feel a lot better after eating these than the MSG-fueled version from the Chinese restaurant. Though I admit, my presentation’s got nothing on that tableside duck carving…
- 1 large head savoy cabbage
- 2 cooked chicken breast halves - or - 1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed from the bones and shredded with a fork
- 1 jar hoisin sauce
- 1 lime
- 1 seedless cucumber
- 1 bunch scallions
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 2 large carrots or 1 cup baby carrots
- 1 fresno chili, ribs and seeds removed, thinly sliced
- 1 large avocado, sliced
- garnish: lime wedges, sesame seeds, chili flakes or aleppo pepper
- On the stove, set a large pot of salted water on to boil. Carefully peel individual cabbage leaves from the head of cabbage until you have about 12 "cups" of varying sizes. Drop the cabbage leaves into the boiling water and blanch for about 1 1/2 minutes. In the meantime, fill a large pot of water with ice water, then plunge the cabbage leaves into the ice water to stop the cooking. When completely cool, wrap gently in towels to dry while you prep the filling.
- In a jar, place 3/4 cup hoisin sauce, squeeze the juice of 1 lime, then add 1/4 cup hot water. Shake firmly until combined. Place the shredded chicken in a bowl, add half the hoisin mixture, and stir to combine.
- Use a spiralizer to make cucumber noodles, or use a knife to cut into little sticks. Cut carrots into skinny little sticks, then use a sharp knife to slice the scallions lengthwise into long ribbons. Chop the cilantro.
- Put all the toppings, including chili and avocado, into individual bowls, then place on a tray with the cabbage leaves and let everyone build their own "tacos." Serve with additional hoisin sauce and garnishes.