Cabbage is here, and we couldn’t be more excited! Yes, many have fallen victim to the stench of sulphurous cabbage boiling away in a pot, but have no fear: it is deceptively versatile and quite delicious. Most of the bad reputation surrounding cabbage likely stems from eating when it is overcooked (as the vegetable breaks down it releases sulphur), or perhaps even its association with colder, more harsh climates and their seemingly uninspired cuisines. But don’t let this discourage you! Whether preparing it raw, cooked, or fermented it can compliment myriad dishes, adding texture, freshness, sweetness, and crisp tang when transformed into sauerkraut or kimchi. Here are some ways we've enjoyed preparing it in the past:
The first thing that comes to mind here is coleslaw, but it doesn't have to be overly sweet with tons of mayo (unless you’re into that). The important thing here is cutting the cabbage very thinly, so that retains some crunch, but breaks down relatively quickly when salt and acid are applied. When cutting up your cabbage, quarter it and then remove the hard core, but don’t throw it away! It is delicious when roasted with root vegetables - you can pretty much treat it like a potato. It is the best part of the cabbage due to the fact that it is very sweet. Another great slaw you can make with raw cabbage would be one with raw red onion, wine vinegar, whole grain mustard, dill and tarragon. The most important thing to remember about your basic slaw is that it should include four basic ingredients besides cabbage, which are salt, vinegar, something sweet, and also some kind of spice or herb. When using this template, it is very easy to now create your own slaw recipe. Also adding other crunchy brassicas like radish and broccoli stem or even roots like carrots and beets can be delightful.
The trick here is cooking the tough leaves just enough so that they become tender, but not too long so that you stink-bomb the whole house. This means you must do a few important things every time to ensure delicious, non-funky cabbage. The first thing we recommend is cutting it into fairly small pieces, either chiffonade (thin strips) or one-inch squares. The smaller it is, the more surface it has, and therefore will cook more quickly. The other you need to do is apply a good amount of heat to it, which means using a heavy pan like cast iron, and the bigger the better. The more cabbage that is in contact with the pan, the faster it will finish cooking. You will also be able to get good color on it before it wilts too much. The best recipe for sauteed cabbage begins with bacon fat (vegetarians: try coconut oil for its exceptional flavor), onions and garlic. The cabbage should be put in the pan without adding salt; it contains a lot of water, so when it comes in contact with something hydroscopic like salt, it starts sweating out moisture. The cabbage will steam instead of caramelize and it will ultimately take longer to cook. Season with salt after you have cooked it for a few minutes and have gotten some good color on it.
From here you can go in a couple of directions: add some vinegar for a more tangy side, or add some apples that you've already cooked down to add sweetness. You can also rehydrate dried fruit like raisins in a little wine and add this to cooked cabbage for a sweet and sour combination that really rocks. And the classic nordic move is to add caraway seeds (think rye bread), lingonberries, and tons of butter. You can’t really go wrong.
For the more adventurous, you may want to dabble in wild fermentation! Nothing to be afraid of here, it’s very simple and hard to mess up. All you need is a clean crock or jar that you can cover with cheesecloth or a towel, kosher salt, and your cabbage. Thinly slice the cabbage and add to a big bowl. Salt the cabbage to taste, don’t worry about weighing it out, just use your best judgement. It shouldn’t be overly salty, but you should use a healthy amount. Add everything to the crock or jar and use a big wooden spoon to start crushing and packing the mixture down. Do this every day for five minutes and then set the jar in a cool, dark spot with a towel draped over the top. After a week you should have a good natural brine that has developed and it should be making some nice sour smells. At this point you can retard the fermentation by refrigerating it, or let it keep going. We love to let it get weird for a few weeks…after then, put it on everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to gazpacho.
Have a great cabbage adventure this week!