Lowly cabbage goes glamorous: Cooking from box, garden, market
Spring is late this year, but everyone still has heavy, wide-eyed piles of one of the original, most thoroughly lowly, peasant foods: the cabbage. I can't believe it took me so long to discover the cabbage. I always treated the bulbous lady so badly, pushing her red fronds aside in college salad bars; eschewing the smarmy cups of coleslaw for her mushy cousin, potatoes and gravy; recoiling in horror from sauerkraut. I hate cabbage, I thought.
Oh me. You were so, so wrong. Or perhaps you were right; that cabbage wasn't loved, not the way my cabbage is now. The first farmer's market of the season I spent the better part of $10 on cabbage, and it's a good bet it will be all eaten within two weeks, and I haven't even made kim chi.
The first, best, most wonderful way to enjoy cabbage is a recipe I adapted from The Paley's Place Cookbook. Trust Vitaly Paley, with his Russian heritage and his local, seasonal mien, to deliver cabbage in its sweetest, truest form. I like savoy cabbage or red cabbage for this; the big heavy pale green heads don't turn as jammy, although sometimes I mix some green in with the red for a play of textures. Here is the recipe for honey-braised cabbage; it also calls for a little bacon fat (or olive oil), an onion and an apple, some vinegar and honey. I serve it with everything; with corned beef or sausages, spooned into lentil or potato soup, heaped into a bowl of pasta, mixed with leftover potatoes and grated beets and lots of fresh garlic for a surprisingly perky fried potato cake. It kind of disappears into soups, even as it adds sweetness, so it's great for kids (yes! mine have now eaten cabbage, and liked it!).
There are so many other ways to cook cabbage. The most important thing I have to tell you is this: cabbage is wonderful in soup. I know, if you're like me, you're already recoiling with fears of stew. But here: my favorite soup method.
Peel (as required) and chop into smallish pieces (1/2 inch or so) one of each of the following in any quantity: onion family, root family (except potatoes), cabbage or sturdy greens. Heat a few tablespoons of fat (butter, oil, reserved bacon or other meat fat); add a teaspoon of each cumin and smoked paprika (Limbo has it), and some salt; stir in your chopped veggies; cook until soft and fragrant; add either peeled and cubed potatoes or cooked beans (any kind, seriously, but if they're lentils or split peas you don't need to cook them first) and water or broth, bring to simmer, cook until everything's soft, mash or puree part of it if you like things that way. I often add chopped garlic, cream, butter or shredded cheese right at the end.
We make a veggie chili based on that method each week, usually with yellow onions and carrots and cabbage, and Everett claims he'd eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. He hasn't eaten it for breakfast yet, but I'm hopeful.
Here are some more cabbage recipes I've either tried or think sound likely:
- Cabbage with hot sauce
- Cabbage cumin slaw
- Cabbage cooked in cream based on this recipe; cut cabbage in wedges
- Sorta kimchi
How do you like your cabbage? Does anyone have an amazing borscht recipe with cabbage as an ingredient? I'm planning a future post on beets...