Friday, August 15, 2008

Cabbage is King

Cabbage as a culinary vegetable gets no respect in some quarters. Novels about the seamier side of life always cite the lingering odor of over-cooked cabbage in hallways of cheap apartment buildings as an instant scene-setter. You'll rarely find cabbage on the menus of exclusive restaurants as part of a delicate sauté, or pictured as the main subject of a coffee-table cookbook. Many of us eat it mostly as coleslaw in fast-food restaurants. Yet I will venture to say that if we could have only one green vegetable on that desert island, it should be cabbage.

For one thing, it is so productive and reliable. Today Kim and I made 20 lbs of sauerkraut from about 30 pounds of cabbage, or about 15 heads - one row. A lot of food that grew there on its own with very little intervention from me once I set the plants in the ground back in early April. Not even regular watering and just one application of Bt to keep down the cabbage loopers that those white cabbage butterflies gift me with. Like all members of its genus (Brassica), it produces both lots of Vitamin C and other good vitamins, and also the sulfurous compounds that give overcooked cabbage such a bad reputation. It is also relatively high in plant protein and keeps well, either as a storage vegetable or preserved by fermentation (sauerkraut). No wonder it is the food of the poor. I've read that prosperity is bringing an end to an old Chinese custom. Often people stored tens of heads of cabbage on their back porches to survive the winter - their only vegetable and almost only food. Now they can afford to buy fresh things from the market.

But cooked properly, cabbage is also delicious and satisfying. And it does stretch the food budget. This year I tried a new variety, Tendersweet. It makes funny flat heads that are perfect for making cabbage rolls, because the leaves separate easily. I used it to make enough cabbage rolls for 3 meals out of one pound of ground beef. This recipe was inspired by the cabbage rolls served as a first course by a steak house in Tulsa. It was called "Jamil's" and was clearly Lebanese or Turkish in origin since they also served tabbouleh and hummus before the steak.

Cabbage Rolls inspired by Jamil's

Blanch a medium head of cabbage, by removing leaves and setting briefly over boiling water until flexible, then setting them aside.

Mix 1 lb raw ground beef, 1 cup uncooked rice, 1 chopped small onion, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup pine nuts (optional), and 1/2 cup chopped tomato (use canned if that's all you have). Season with 1 t oregano, 1/2 t salt, a grind of black pepper, a pinch of thyme, a dash of allspice, 1/2 t cinnamon, and 1/2 t of Aleppo pepper or paprika.

Roll small sausage-shaped parts of the mixture in cabbage leaves, fold the leaves over them to make a bundle, and tuck them into a large flat casserole. If there are any leftover small cabbage leaves, they may be tucked into corners. Pour over this a tomato sauce, either of home-cooked tomatoes, or 2 (1 lb) cans, chopped, to which has been added a pinch of oregano and a dash of allspice. Add a little water if needed to cover the rolls. Bake covered for 1 hour at 350° F. These freeze well.


Anonymous said...

I really like stuffed cabbage, even though it is very labor intensive, as your recipe indicates.

Not sure if you'll get this message, but some of us food bloggers (including Kim and me) are meeting at the market tomorrow about 8 or 8:30. Join us if you can!

kim said...

I was just about to ask you for your cabbage roll recipe. This sounds delicious and, thanks to you, I have all the ingredients. It's on the menu for tonight!

Thank you!


Anonymous said...

The cabbage rolls were awesome! :)

Buttercup said...

Kim and Patti - I'm glad the recipe worked for you. I've certainly copied down a lot of Kim's.