- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

It’s easy in California to imagine that we have all kinds of produce year round. Of course, that isn’t true, but a wide choice of winter vegetables does persist throughout the year. If you live in another climate zone, however, come February you may feel that cabbage, potatoes and kale are all the markets have to offer.

This has actually been the case for a while, but you were so caught up in holiday cooking through November and December that you’re only now noticing.

This might not be a bad thing. First of all, this winter, you may be looking for simpler, lighter recipes.

Cabbage certainly lends itself to these. And you may not know this, but it’s an incredibly versatile vegetable, comfortable in pies, stews, soups, side dishes and salads.

It gets sweeter the longer you cook it and only smells like boiled cabbage if, well, you boil it too long.

Because cabbage keeps well throughout the winter, we associate it with winter cuisines, such as those of Russia, Central Europe and Korea. However, it’s equally loved in the Mediterranean and in Southeast Asia; it’s as compatible with soy sauce and ginger root as it is with onions, cheese and meat.

The recipes that follow should give you a new respect for cabbage. At the same time, they may help you shed a few of those extra pounds put on over the holidays.

The longer you cook cabbage, the sweeter it gets. The first recipe, a comforting, long-simmering winter dish is based on a recipe by Darra Goldstein from “The Vegetarian Hearth” (HarperCollins).

Bulgur makes the perfect pilaf base for the tangy cabbage, and together they make a lovely vegetarian supper.

Sweet and sour cabbage with bulgur

1 small to medium head (about 2 pounds) white cabbage

Salt

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, or 1 tablespoon each

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 28-ounce can tomatoes, drained and chopped or coarsely pureed in food processor

⅓ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar or mild honey

1½ cups bulgur

Bring large pot of water to a boil while you core the cabbage. When the water comes to a boil, add the head of cabbage and 2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste. Boil uncovered for 10 minutes, then remove cabbage from pot and rinse with cold water. Shred the cabbage and set aside. Reserve and set aside the cabbage cooking water.

Heat olive oil or butter or combination of both in a large, heavy, nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes, then add enough of the cabbage cooking water to just cover the onions. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer slowly, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an hour, until onions are golden and water has evaporated. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, combine garlic, tomatoes, lemon juice, sugar or honey and ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Stir together until sugar is dissolved, and remove from heat. Stir the garlic-tomato mixture and cabbage into the onions. Combine well, bring to a simmer, cover and simmer 1½ to 2 hours, or until meltingly tender and tangy-sweet. Taste and add more salt, if desired.

While cabbage is cooking, place bulgur in a bowl. Bring cabbage water back to a boil, and pour 3 cups over the bulgur. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Pour off excess water. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Serve bulgur with the cabbage spooned over, or toss bulgur and cabbage together, pilaf-style (my preference). Makes 6 servings.

Spicy stir-fried cabbage with edamame and snow peas

2 tablespoons soy sauce

½ teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

2 or 3 small dried red chilies, preferably Thai

3 slices ginger root, about ¼ inch thick

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 small (about 1 pound) green or napa cabbage, quartered, cored and cut

in wide strips

1 cup shelled edamame (can use frozen)

½ cup snow peas, stems trimmed and strings removed

Salt

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Steamed rice or noodles

Mix soy sauce with sugar and 1 tablespoon water, and set it aside.

In large, heavy, nonstick skillet or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chilies and ginger root. Cook, stirring, until chilies and ginger root color and smell fragrant. Remove from oil, and add garlic. Stir-fry for about 15 seconds, until just beginning to color. Then add cabbage, edamame (green soybeans) and snow peas.

Stir for a minute or two, until cabbage is coated with oil and beginning to wilt. Add ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste, and continue stir-frying for another minute. Add soy sauce mixture, and continue to stir-fry until cabbage is wilted and softened but not without texture. Edamame and snow peas should be tender-crisp. Stir in cilantro, taste, adjust seasoning, and serve with rice or noodles. Makes 4 servings.

Southeast Asian cabbage slaw

1 medium napa or regular cabbage, shredded (about 7 cups)

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin 2-inch-long slivers

1 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin 2-inch-long slivers

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

½ to 1 red Thai chili or serrano chili, minced (optional)

⅓ cup rice wine vinegar

1 to 1¼ teaspoons sugar (see note)

Salt

1 tablespoon sesame oil

¼ cup peanut or canola oil

Toss together cabbage, bell peppers, cilantro and chili, if using. Mix together rice wine vinegar and sugar, if using. Stir until dissolved. Add salt to taste and sesame and canola oils. Toss with the salad. Let salad sit for 15 to 30 minutes before serving, in or out of the refrigerator. Toss again and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Omit sugar if rice wine vinegar is seasoned.

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