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There's more to cabbage than just a corned beef sidekick
Explore the possibilities of this economical, versatile veggie
1. Braised with parsley and thyme: Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large (use 2 tablespoons for richer flavor), deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1⁄4 cup low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth, 1 pound shredded cabbage (1/2 medium head) and 1⁄4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or dried thyme. Bring to simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted but still bright green, seven to nine minutes. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley, plus salt and pepper to taste. Adapted from "Perfect Vegetables" by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine ($29.95).
2. High-heat roast with spicy Asian dressing: I love to serve this beautifully browned cabbage as one component of an Asian menu or as an accompaniment to grilled fish. Adjust the oven rack to upper position, about 2 to 3 inches from heat element; preheat oven to 500 degrees. Quarter 1 medium head cabbage; core and cut crosswise into 1⁄2-inch wide strips. Place in flameproof 14- by 2- by 2-inch roasting pan. Toss with 3 tablespoons canola oil (don't worry if not all pieces are coated with oil). Roast 15 minutes. Turn pieces over (note that in center, cabbage is very wet; make sure to turn and move these pieces to the sides). Roast 15 more minutes and sprinkle with salt to taste. In small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon roasted (Asian) sesame oil, 1⁄4 cup mirin (wine made from glutinous rice), 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons soy sauce and 3 to 5 small drops red pepper oil or hot sauce. Place roasting pan over medium heat. Add sesame oil mixture and toss. Use spatula to scrape up any browned bits at bottom of pan. If desired, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Adapted from "Roasting" by Barbara Kafka, Morrow, $25.
3. Crunchified salad greens: Add shredded cabbage to mixed baby greens to add crunch and character to mixed green salads.
4. Coleslaw with Bacon and Buttermilk Dressing: Salting and draining the onion with the cabbage mellows the onion's mouth-burn. The bacon in the salad becomes soft with time, so this salad is best served the day it is prepared. To make it: In a colander, toss 1 pound shredded cabbage (about 1⁄2 medium head), 1 large carrot (peeled, grated), 1⁄2 medium brown onion (thinly sliced) and 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand one to four hours. Rinse the vegetables under cold running water (or in a large bowl of ice water if serving immediately). Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Fry 6 ounces bacon (about 6 slices) until crisp; drain on paper towels. In a large bowl, stir 1⁄2 cup buttermilk, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, 1⁄4 teaspoon dry mustard, 2 teaspoons sugar. Add cabbage mixture and bacon; toss. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Sandwich crunch: Use up leftover coleslaw in sandwiches along with cold meat or pulled pork.
6. "Lighter" mayonnaise for coleslaw: If using a mayonnaise-based dressing on coleslaw, instead of just mayonnaise, use a combination of "light" mayonnaise and plain nonfat yogurt.
7. Quick stew with Kielbasa and pasta: Generously spray a large, deep skillet with nonstick cooking oil. Brown 1⁄2 pound coarsely chopped kielbasa sausage on medium heat, stirring frequently; remove with slotted spoon. Add 5 cups shredded cabbage; cook, tossing occasionally until starting to wilt. Add 1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable) and pinch of dried red pepper flakes; cover and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook 1⁄2 pound penne pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1⁄2 cup pasta-cooking water and drain pasta. Add pasta and sausage to cabbage. Add reserved pasta water if mixture is dry. Top with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
"Mon petite chou." Those song-like words of endearment were used by my grandmother to verbalize her love.
"My little cabbage." Yes, cabbage. On the plate or in the bowl, it can be lovable. But loads of my friends only eat it on St. Patrick's Day, which I find downright daft. Just one of its many attributes is that it is cheap.
Yes, that standard green, common cabbage, is often bargain-basement priced. It's compact, with only a central core that goes to waste.
And yes, it can be absolutely delicious.
My theory is that cabbage gets a bad rap either because it is incorrectly cooked or served raw smothered in way-too-much mayonnaise.
Mildly sweet, subtly spicy and perfectly pliant is the cooked-cabbage goal. Too much cooking can make it mushy and, well, stinky. Those perfectionist testers at Cook's Illustrated ("Perfect Vegetables" by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine, $29.95) experimented with green cabbage and came up with a technique to ensure both great taste and texture. They call it a "quick braise-sauté."
It's a speedy process that involves a smidgen of fat (maybe a tablespoon or two of butter, bacon fat or vegetable oil — less than a teaspoon per serving) and a small amount of liquid (cream, broth, apple juice, white wine or tomato juice).
Raw and wonderful
I love the fact that raw cabbage salads can be made in advance. And just like women, they get better with age. But if you are making a salad ahead, the salt-first technique can prevent it from becoming watery. The cells inside raw cabbage are full of water that leaches out after it is tossed with a dressing, diluting the flavor in the dressing. Tossing shredded cabbage with a little salt and allowing it to rest in a colander for an hour or so keeps optimum flavor once it is dressed.
The salt-first method changes the texture a bit, making the cabbage more pickle-like. The salt is rinsed from the cabbage before the dressing is added, and the shreds are patted dry. I use it if I am making a cabbage salad ahead of time.
For a last-minute coleslaw, I simply toss the unsalted, right-from-the-fridge shredded cabbage with a simple vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper. I augment the mixture with either chopped basil or Italian parsley, plus raisins, roughly chopped peanuts and thin-cut apple wedges or tangerine wedges or shredded carrot. Then I serve it minutes after it is made.
This last-minute approach is handy. Because I often shop just once a week, toward the end of the week I have used up all the lettuce. Because common green cabbage holds up well for at least a week (sometimes two) in the refrigerator, it is often my standby when other, more time-fragile vegetables have been consumed.
CIDER-APPLE BRAISED CABBAGE
1 tablespoon butter
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
1⁄2 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 pound shredded cabbage, about 1⁄2 head medium
Melt butter in large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add Granny Smith apple; cook until beginning to brown, about three to five minutes.
Add apple juice, thyme and caraway seeds; simmer until slightly reduced, about two minutes over medium heat. Add cabbage; toss to combine, cover and simmer until cabbage is wilted but still bright green, seven to nine minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Adapted from "Perfect Vegetables" by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine ($29.95).
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A traditional St. Patrick's Day dinner of corned beef and cabbage can be prepared 10 hours in advance by using a slow cooker. Simply place all the ingredients in the slow cooker — except the cabbage — adjust the setting to low and allow to slowly cook the day away. The cabbage can be added to the slow cooker during the last couple of hours of cooking or quickly cook separately in a skillet and add to the pot just before serving. Rival's "Crock Pot Guide" is the source of this recipe.
SLOW COOKER CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE
Yield: six to eight servings
3 carrots, peeled, cut in 3-inch pieces, see cook's notes
3- to 4-pound corned beef brisket
2 to 3 medium onions, quartered, see cook's notes
1 to 2 cups water
1⁄2 small head cabbage, cut into wedges, see cook's notes
Cook's notes: Vegetables may be varied, or omitted for plain corned beef. The amount of cabbage is limited by the size of the slow cooker. Additional cabbage may be cooked separately, if desired (see procedure for cooking cabbage separately).
Place all ingredients except the cabbage in slow cooker in the order they are listed. Cover and cook on low for eight to 10 hours. If you prefer, you may cook on high for five to six hours.
Procedure for adding cabbage to slow cooker: Add cabbage wedges to liquid, pushing down to moisten, turn to high and cook an additional two hours.
Procedure for cooking cabbage separately: To prepare more cabbage than the slow cooker will hold, or for preparing it separately, place cabbage wedges in a large skillet along with 1 cup of the liquid from the slow cooker (taken during the last hour of cooking). Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Add to pot.
Serve hot. Accompany with assorted mustards, if desired.
TUSCAN BEAN AND FARRO SOUP WITH CABBAGE AND WINTER SQUASH
Yield: six servings
1⁄2 pound (1-1⁄4 cups) dried pinto beans, picked over, rinsed
1⁄2 cup farro, see cook's notes
10 cups water, divided use
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 small celery stalk with leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 pound green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, diced (about 2 cups)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Generous 1⁄2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled or fresh minced
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
Cook's notes: Farro — emmer whole wheat — is available at Italian markets. Or use spelt, a whole wheat that is sold at health food stores and some supermarkets in the natural foods section.
Place beans in bowl; cover by 2 inches with cold water and soak overnight or at least six hours. Drain.
Combine farro and 2 cups water in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and remove from heat. If there is water left in the pan, drain. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion and cook until onion softens, about three minutes. Add carrot, celery and sage; cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender, about eight to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about one minute.
Add cabbage and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring often, until cabbage is limp, about 10 minutes. Add beans, squash and 8 cups water (or enough water to cover ingredients by 2 inches). Bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat and simmer one hour. Add salt, to taste.
If beans are not tender, simmer gently until beans are tender, about 10 minutes. Ladle out 2 cups of beans and vegetables with a small amount of broth; purée in blender in small batches or food processor. Return puréed mixture to pot.
Meanwhile, prepare sofrito: While soup is simmering, heat oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and rosemary; cook 30 seconds and stir in tomatoes. Add salt to taste and cook, stirring often, until tomatoes have cooked down and sofrito is thick and delicious and beginning to stick to the pan, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir sofrito into the soup. Stir in the cooked farro. Taste and adjust salt and add lots of freshly ground black pepper. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
Source: Adapted from "Mediterranean Harvest" by Martha Rose Shulman (Rodale, $39.95)