Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cabbage Head

The cabbage head has a very humble reputation. With traditions born of poverty or plain lack of creativity, it's often greeted with sighs or wry expressions of disappointment. I say unfair! The very qualities that make cabbage a food of subsistence are those that should make it a superstar! It is loaded with vitamins (B2, B6, folate, C and K), minerals (phosphorous, potassium and manganese, oh my!), and that cancer-fighting class of chemicals that have been given the not-very-illuminating name of "phytonutrients" (or, nutrients in plants...duh.). It also has fiber, and, something more appreciated today, no fat (and it would laugh at the concept of trans fatty acids). It can last all winter if properly stored, which means you can get a hefty dose of what's good for you when there's not much growing in the snow.

For the sake of comparison and contrast, take a more popular food, one that gets cheers from children and adults alike, say, some kind of Cheez Doodles. Vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients? I don't think so. Absence of calorie-laden fats? Um, no. (I won't go down the "partially hydrogenated" road.) Sure they can last all winter if you don't open the bag, but good luck with that. Sure, they're crunchy, but does a cabbage not also have crunch? And cabbage would never stain your fingers day-glo orange, even if you ate it with your fingers.

Okay, so the contrast may be an insincere one, but the point is that cabbage should get a little more respect. Chances are that some form of cabbage kept your ancestors alive at some point in history.
Since I'm usually cooking for two (although I'd happily cook for you, too, if you want to come and visit), I can cut a nice big head of cabbage, like the one above from our CSA, in half and use it two different ways. On the first cabbage day, I finely chopped the cabbage, sauteed it in butter, and flavored it with cider vinegar and caraway seeds. It is a simple dish, but don't let that fool you. It is flavorful and satisfying. I love caraway, and think it's great with cabbage, and the vinegar allows a hint at the tart, fermented flavors of sauerkraut, but with instant gratification. (No, I don't make my own sauerkraut, but am fully aware that nothing compares to homemade.)

You can use a food processor to cut up the cabbage (I didn't happen to have space on the counter the day I made sauteed cabbage). I don't use the shredding blade, but prefer to cut the cabbage into small wedges and use the slicing blade. I find the shredder on my machine pulverizes cabbage more than I like, especially for this dish.

While this was cooking, Harry asked if it was wrong that the aromas wafting through the apartment made him think of comfort food. No, Dear Husband, you're far from wrong. Eat cabbage and be comforted.

Sauteed Cabbage with Caraway and Cider Vinegar

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 large head cabbage, chopped or shredded (about 6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the cabbage and salt and saute for 10 to 12 minutes until the cabbage is wilted and just begins to brown, stirring often.

2. Add the vinegar and caraway seeds. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, about 15 minutes more or until the cabbage has softened, but still has a bit of crunch.

About 4 side dish servings

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