Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ways With Cabbage

This time of year can be pretty challenging for people who grow their own, or insist on local veg. Trying to subsist on swedes, cabbages and leeks and little else for months on end can be pretty trying. I'm OK with the swedes potatoes and leeks - you can make mash with plenty of butter or cream and lots of salt and pepper so at least it doesn't taste so damned healthy. Or you can make soup from them and keep it interesting by adding different beans, noodles, dumplings, croutons, or serve it with different kinds of home-made bread (I'm on a big soda bread kick at the moment - more on that in a future post).

But cabbage is a problem. I'm with Hedgie on this one. I'm just not a big fan of cabbage, and I admit I've flung a few of them to the chickens in desperation when my kitchen seems to be taken over by more cabbages than I care to eat. The chickens seem to like them as long as you can figure out how to suspend the cabbages so they don't just get trampled into the mud.

I have found the secret to making cabbage a pleasure is to cut out the tough central veins on each leaf and shred what's left into really fine ribbons - 1/8" or so. It's the mouthful of tough chewy cabbage that gets me down.

Once you've done that there are a few things you can do to make really delicious dishes with cabbage. I like stir frying it - I had a lovely vegetarian stir fry the other day with julienne swede, finely shredded cabbage and leeks cut into sticks rather than rings. I fried some garlic and ginger up with it too. Then I put on plenty of soy sauce and a little sesame oil and served it with noodles. It would have been even better with some soy sauce marinaded chicken but I didn't have any.

Staying with the Chinese theme, if you finely shred savoy cabbage and deep fry it with slivers of garlic, then drain it and serve with lots of sea salt, that's exactly how they make the stuff they call "seaweed" in Chinese restaurants. I don't make this any more because a) I haven't owned a deep fryer in years and b) when I tried it I found it tricky getting the cabbage properly crispy but not burned.

You can stir fry cabbage without going all oriental. I like to fry strips of onion in olive oil until they're soft, then add shredded cabbage and shedloads of black pepper. Don't think "seasoning" think "flavouring", like steak au poivre. It's supposed to smell strongly of aromatic black pepper. With some buttery nutmeg swede mash and some tasty sausages and onion gravy you won't be wishing for summer peas and lettuce, you'll be revelling in delicious winter food.

Or you can steam your shredded cabbage with some fennel seeds. Remove the rind from a lemon and squeeze the juice. Finely shred the rind and cream it into some butter along with the lemon juice, sea salt and a moderate amount of black pepper, them stir the lemon butter into the steamed cabbage. Our veggie family likes this with a vegetable quiche, and perhaps some mashed spuds. But I'm sure it would also accompany chicken or fish very well.

But our family's favourite use for cabbage is the legendary Baked Cabbage with Nuts and Cheese.

Baked Cabbage with Nuts and Cheese
Shred a cabbage (usually a white cabbage but it works with a Savoy as well) and boil. Make cheese sauce with a strong-flavoured cheese, and thin it out with some of the cabbage cooking water. Season well with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and lots of freshly grated nutmeg. Mix with the strained cabbage and a generous handful of salted peanuts. Bung it in an ovenproof dish with more cheese and nuts and nutmeg on top and bake in a moderate oven until the top is golden.

Believe me, this is one of the best things you will ever put in your mouth. This is the dish that has converted fundamentalist carnivores to vegetarianism. You know the people who always quip "This would be nice with a pork chop"? Serve this to them and it will shut them up. You won't believe cabbage could taste so good.

You don't believe me, do you? You're thinking "It's cheesy cabbage. So what? Sounds rubbish." Try it. I double-dare you. Then come back here and tell me if I lied to you about the best thing you ever put in your mouth, or not.


Lesley said...

Good Morning!
This is a must to try. I am off to the farm shop for my eggs a little later, so will try this with the inevitable cabbage!
I had a recipe for cabbage where you separate and wash the green beasty, then re-assemble it, but with layers of 'stuffing' of your choice between the leaves as you put it together (eg, minced meat or chicken, or cheesy breadcrumbsbound with an egg, etc etc). Put the re-formed cabbage in a steamer and do intil done. To serve it, cut into wedges. Clearly the taste will depend on the seasoning and the content!
I'll try to find the book I found it in and let you know

Mel's Dad said...

Whenever I boil bacon, which is often, I always keep the boiling liquor and freeze it in cup size, and larger, pots. This liquor is used for making pease pudding and, when I need it, a cupful for boiling my cabbage (you need very little liquid to do this). The resulting cabbage is served sprinkled with black pepper and nutmeg then lots of lovely, Irish, farm fresh salted buttered stirred in. Delicious with the boiled bacon and buttery mashed carrots and pots.

kim said...

Ooh, cheesy cabbage - that is a new one to me. Do you think it would work just as well with toasted pine nuts in place of the peanuts?

I have two small cabbages in my kitchen waiting to be eaten over the next few days.

(Sadly not homegrown but they are locally grown - we use one of the organic veg box schemes to get a weekly stash of seasonal veggies)

I must admit, my staple way of cooking cabbage is to saute it in butter with lots of sliced garlic and seasoning. It is delicious (but the butter part is not so healthy!)

I might have to give your suggestion a go!

Steph in Roker said...

Tony makes a dish of kinda lebonese rice (sultanas, pine nuts, mixedspice plus extra nutmeg) and only part cook the rice in the spices. Then make parcels, wrapping tablespoons of the rice mix in cabbage leaves, stack them tightly in a pot,then pour on stock and bake. Don't ask me about timings but you get the idea.

Melanie Rimmer said...

Kim, I think the original recipe might even have called for pine nuts, and probably mozzarella or parmesan cheese and other expensive gourmet ingredients. Our version evolved as a skint hungry student alternative. It's a wonderful dish for filling your belly and satisfying your taste buds for just a few pence per portion.

kim said...

I see. Well as a student myself at the moment, I am always on the look out for cheap and yummy wholesome food! Thanks Melanie :)

Linz said...

When you're next making mash, shred some cabbage (ideally savoy, but I generally use white) and steam it over the potatoes. Mash the potatoes, mix in the cabbage. Serve into bowls with bacon or sausages. Make a well in the top of each pile of mash and stick a lump of butter* in the well. Dip each forkful of mash into the butter. Enjoy, then expire of cholesterol.

I think this is colcannon but it could be champ.

*other spreads are available.

Tracy said...

Hi Mel,

My fave cabbage recipe is Vietnamese Coleslaw, that calls for chicken, but I don't eat chicken so substitute with prawns or crab. And I use any sort of cabbage, not just the chinese variety, Savoy or plain white cabbage is just as good. It's amazing. Here's a link.

Another yummy recipe is just braised cabbage with grated cheese melted over it, or red cabbage braised with some onion and apple.

I have to admit to being a bit of a cabbage-fan.

Happy cabbage munching!

hedgewizard said...

Linz, that's a cut down version of colcannon, which I cooked tonight with some of our kale. You're missing an ingredient though, and that's leek or onion, boiled in milk (or cream if you're posh) until it's tender. You mash the spuds, mix in the milk and leek, season well and add a good pinch of mace, then stir through the cooked kale. Then the butter etc.

I have my own version of this classic recipe though, where instead of boiling/steaming the kale you fry it down in a little left over bacon fat, until it's starting to singe. Not for veggies, but it does lift the dish wonderfully!

Champ, btw, is mashed potato with cream (or milk and a little butter) and chopped spring onion mixed through. My favourite!

Stonehead said...

We eat cabbage and kale four or more times a week. Those plus potatoes, carrots, parsnips, barley and oatmeal are our winter mainstays, picked up with preserves, pickles, chutneys and a few frozen veg (peas, spinach etc).

We just accept that's the way it is when you grow all your vegetables and live in NE Scotland. We eat a lot of soups, stews, brose and the like.

I've never had a problem finding ways to cook and enjoy cabbage (or kale), but then I've always enjoyed cabbage. Mind you, my father thinks oats and greens (which we eat together as brose) is horse feed!

Lesley said...

We tried your cheesy cabbage yesterday, and found it really wonderful. Thanks for the recipe, it is now going into my recipe book , (now into volume four)

Steph in Roker said...

Mel, I'm concerned that of all the eco-'right-on' posts,and deep musings that you post, the one this year with the most feedback is on the subject of 'cabbage'. This is England, you can tell.

Ally said...

Thanks for posting this - going to have a go. I've also got a *really* nice recipe for something called Hai Li Lim, which is basically cabbage curry, with mince - but I guess you could use soya mince if you eat that?

John Curtin said...

Ever tried flavouring with crushed juniper berries. It's very good.

Susan in Florida said...

Love all your cabbage recipes--can't wait to try the cheesy penut one! Didn't notice any mention of homemade sauerkraut. It's probably an acquired taste, but I love the stuff and can't get enough of it -- so tasty, nothing at all like what my folks used to get out of a can to go with nasty hot dogs.

Easy as pie, but it takes a few weeks to get ready-- you just shred it and put it into a clean crock, lightly salting each layer and smashing it down with your fist as you go. (you can use the core, the tough parts, everything -- they will soften as they ferment) I add whole peppercorns, bay leaves, fennel seeds, that sort of thing too; you can add shredded carrots and beets if you like, to change the flavor and make it prettier.

When your crock or jar is nearly full, put a clean plate on top, then a smaller jar of water to weight the plate; cover with a clean cloth to keep out dust and bugs. By the next day, enough juice should've oozed from the cabbage to cover the cabbage; if not, pour in enough lightly salted water to do it.

Leave it, covered with cloth so it gets air but not dust; at cool room temp, and check once a week or so. It's ready to eat when you say it is -- I like it when it's plenty sour, and soft, but not mushy. But you can eat it when it's still pretty crunchy too. Great on sandwiches instead of pickles.

Best to eat it without cooking, so you get the benefit of all the probiotic cultures that are so good for your digestion and immune system. I even drink the juice, but some people save it and pickle peeled boiled eggs in it....

Thanks again for your great recipe--

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