Thursday, June 2, 2011

Of cabbages and kings

Well OK, just of cabbages—but what amazingly versatile players these are in the vegetable world, worthy of high praise! Not only are they stalwarts in the winter garden, like leeks, but you can do so much with them! We grow three different kinds in our garden: the sweet little sugarloaf cabbages, delicious Savoy cabbage with their pale frilly leaves, and beautiful red cabbage, more purple than red really, which lends a touch of colour to even the simplest winter meal. Each of them can be used in many different ways—the Savoy is particularly suited to role-changing. Here's some ideas for fantastic cabbage dishes:
*Mixture of very finely-chopped Savoy cabbage and red cabbage, with a dressing of olive oil, a little white balsamic vinegar, a little sour cream, Dijon mustard, finely-chopped Spanish onions, chives and garlic chives, salt, pepper. Or with a tangy home-made mayonnaise.
*A simple and delicious way to cook cabbage as a side dish is to take a whole small sugarloaf cabbage, split it in two, leaving leaves intact on either side, fry it in a little butter, a bit of salt, add a splash of white wine or water, cook for about 2 mins, then tip out the liquid and start again with a little white wine and a little stock till vegetable is cooked and the leaves are translucent. You can do this with chopped Savoy cabbage too. (they are usually too big to cook as halves like the sugarloaf!)
*Red cabbage is extremely nice cooked in an adapted Russian/Scandinavian style way, sweet and sour. This is my version of it: Chop red cabbage finely, fry in a little butter or oil with a chopped onion, add some red wine, salt, pepper, and let simmer for about five minutes. Now add some brown sugar and cider vinegar, tasting to see if mixture has proper sweet/sour contrast(it doesn't want to be too much of the one or the other.) Add chicken or beef or vegetable stock to just cover and simmer for about 30 mins or until cabbage is very well-cooked and tender. Add some herbs if wanted, and a little more sugar/vinegar if needed, simmer for another couple of minutes. This is fantastic with not only all sorts of meats but also beans and other legumes, such as black-eyed beans, chick peas, lentils, etc. Best hot, it is also pretty nice cold as a condiment to have with cold meats and ham.
*Cabbage soup—one of my favourites and so very simple. Take some finely-chopped sugarloaf or Savoy cabbage, some diced carrots, 1 diced large potato, chopped onion, garlic, herbs: thyme, parsley, sage; salt, pepper, some red wine, some butter, chicken or beef or vegetable stock. Fry the onion in the butter, add the carrot and potato, stir till starting to cook, then add some red wine, cook for a little longer. Add the cabbage, some more red wine, cook for 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, herbs, stock and cook till carrot and potato are completely tender. Serve with fresh bread or croutons.
*Cabbage cake: I adore this traditional French peasant dish, the perfect thing in winter, which can come either as individual parcels, as in my sister Beatrice's excellent stuffed cabbage parcels recipe in an earlier post(see Family recipes 3), but also as a kind of layered 'cake.' For this you need some whole Savoy cabbage leaves(break carefully off), pork mince, salt, pepper, herbs(sage and thyme is good), an egg, breadcrumbs. First blanch the leaves in some water or stock, for about 2 minutes. Mix the mince with the other ingredients. In a greased round baking dish first put a cabbage leaf then a layer of mince then a cabbage leaf and so on and on until you have used up both the meat and the leaves(you need to have at least four to six leaves for it to work properly. Cook, covered, in a moderate oven for about 1 hour. Serve with a home-made tomato sauce or redcurrant jelly.

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