Friday, January 15, 2010

Spicy Green Cabbage

Oh, I know, really I know. Cabbage is never going to be sexy, and no one is going to read this and think, "I must go pick up some green cabbage right this minute and run home to make this recipe immediately."

I know.

But, see, I love cabbage. I mean really, truly, love and adore, pledge-my-undying-devotion-at-the-altar, LOVE cabbage. It could be the Southern girl in me, or the vegetarian - I'll never know, I guess, but I'm okay with that, because even if I am alone in this devotion, I will still have cabbage by my side.

I have only had fresh-from-the-farm cabbage a handful of times, and each time has been a sort of Very Important Moment, you know, where angels sing and a light beams down from above. If I could get it weekly from the co-op, I would, but I've only seen it listed on their website one time, and only twice in three years have I received it in my weekly box from the CSA. Honestly I'm tempted to try and grow it myself. Most of the time though, I pick up a heavy, firm head of it from the supermarket.

I've even been known to buy cabbage from a certain giant box store. I feel like such a junkie...

I have come to an uneasy truce with my desire to buy locally by finally settling for doing my best. If something is available locally, at any time of the year, then, with very few exceptions, I will only buy it locally and in season. The Carnivore scarcely notices, and The Boy Wonder has learned about seasons, about climates for growing produce, and about geography from our endless discussions about seasonal produce. I'm so tickled with the little fellow when he sighs wisely while in the supermarket and says, in his best world-weary voice, "I sure would like some blueberries right now, but they just never taste the same when they aren't fresh-picked in the heat of the summer. I guess we'll just wait, right Mama?"

I love him. More than cabbage, even.

Cabbage is one of our supermarket exceptions. Since I am virtually unable to source it locally, then I bend the rule and buy it from the store with the following caveats: that it be purchased only during it's local growing season, and it be grown within the United States. I would prefer to only buy it from our region, but since the produce labeling laws only require the country of origin, then I (again) just do my best.

See, this way I'm only being a little neurotic. 'Tis a vast improvement over some of my stricter OCD proclivities. Ask Beth if you don't believe me. She recently saw me lay a damp and dingy dishtowel over my head while I delineated some of my stressors regarding the simultaneous weighing of the environmental and financial conundrums of purchases.

I can live with 'a little neurotic.'

What I'm trying to say is it is cabbage season right now, and my nearest grocery store had some of the most beautiful heavy heads of green cabbage last week, listed as being from the next state over, and on sale no less. So I bought a few heads. Gleefully.

The Carnivore and I are both head-over-heels in love with the Braised Green Cabbage recipe that I have been using for the past few years, with it's luscious, velvety texture and rich, complex flavor. The only drawback is the 2 1/2 hours of cooking time involved. And since our days of late have been filled with learning activities and crafting and spur-of-the-moment times of drop-everything-and-go-do-something-fun, it is a rare day indeed that I remember to start dinner exactly 2 1/2 hours before we need to eat.

Hence the recent post about The Art of Simple Food. With the flexibility in our homeschooling and homeworking life comes a new flexibility in the way we eat. So last week, when it was suddenly past 4 o'clock, and I knew we would need to be sitting and eating within an hour in order for our busy evening to run as smoothly as possible, I flung open the fridge and surveyed my last minute options.

There was a fridge drawer chock full of cabbage, a few big knobs of sunchokes, some leftover blue cheese & wild rice frittata from the night before, and a few pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes in the pantry. I could serve the leftover frittata with Sunchoke & Potato Mash, but would need something a little crunchy to go with those softer textures, so really, the Braised Cabbage would have been a lousy choice even if I had, ahem, started it in time.

I had just the perfect recipe to try though, from Vegan Soul Kitchen, another cookbook I had lusted over for months before finding a used copy online. In it was an intriguing sounding, and easy looking, quick recipe for Spicy Smothered Green Cabbage. It sounded ideal for the purposes of this dinner, with hardly three minutes of prep time, a few strong-flavored spices to add some depth of flavor, and a short enough cooking time that the cabbage would almost certainly retain just the right amount of it's crunchy texture.

I'm telling you, if I thought I loved cabbage before this recipe, I love it even more now. This dish was so incredibly lovely, nicely flavored but versatile enough that it won't compete with whatever main dish it is paired with, idiot-proof in it's ease of prep and cooking, and ready in a flash. Simple does not mean bland, you see.

I upped the red pepper flakes a little, to add some additional heat (it wasn't quite spicy enough to merit using the word 'spicy' in it's title, I felt) and I added a little vinegar to brighten the flavor somewhat; you could tinker around with this as you see fit. The artistry of this recipe is in it's simplicity.

The final dish is a bit like a warm slaw, and is delicious on it's own, served alongside potatoes and frittata in this case, but would also do wonders as a bed for a pan-fried fish. Actually, I had thought about using the leftovers as a kind of fresher, livelier sort of sauerkraut atop tofu dogs, but I ended up eating it straight out it's container the next day for a very late breakfast.

'Twas THAT good.


SPICY GREEN CABBAGE (serves 4 or more, adapted from Vegan Soul Cooking)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp raw cane sugar (or other less-processed sugar)
  • Coarse sea salt (or kosher salt)
  • 1 green cabbage (about 2 lbs) quartered, cored, and sliced relatively thinly
  • 5 Tbs water
  • Coarsely ground black pepper, or ground white pepper
  • Rice wine vinegar (or other mild white vinegar), to taste
  1. In a wide, fairly deep, heavy pan, like a Dutch oven, add the olive oil, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, sugar, and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mustard seeds start to pop, about 2 minutes.
  2. Quickly add the cabbage, and stir to coat with oil. Cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, until cabbage is a bit wilted.
  3. Add the water, stir again, cover, and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated. The cabbage is ready at this time, but can be cooked on low heat for an additional 5-15 minutes to achieve a softer texture if you wish.
  4. Season with salt, pepper and vinegar to taste.


Dee said...

This sounds wonderful. I am going to try it. My kids love cabbage so I've tried to find ways to fix it that we all like.

I fix what I call Eggroll Cabbage, using shredded cabbage and soy sauce and lots of chopped onion or onion powder. It's a 5 minute fix.

Keep the cabbage recipes coming!

Beth said...

I like the idea of an "uneasy truce." Okay, I don't 'like' the idea, but it's a realistic assessment of where many of us are...
And yes. The Dishtowel Incident will be forever etched in my memory. ;)

Becky said...

This is awesome! I think I'll try cooking it a bit less.

Eric said...

Keep watching for cabbage at Athens Locally Grown. TaylOrganics has savoy cabbage every week for almost two months before the big freeze came through a couple weeks ago. There will probably be more in March & April (prime cabbage months here) from Mills Farm, McMullan Family Farm, and Harvest Moon Farm.

I'm a big fan of the stuff too.