When imagining highbrow culinary creations, cabbage doesn’t usually spring to mind. Fortunately, this column is all about the lowbrow pleasures of ordinary food — and there’s nothing more glorious in its ordinariness than cabbage. Assembled here for your perusal are four recipes featuring this classic cruciferous vegetable.
Red Cabbage with Apples
I first tasted this dish 25 years ago, when my Dutch-British father-in-law made it for a big family meal celebrating my engagement to his son. A tantalizing, spicy aroma filled the whole house. I nosed around the kitchen, searching for the source. (If they thought that was dreadfully rude, they never mentioned it, bless them.) I was puzzled to find only a simmering pot of something purple.
At dinner, I took a small helping, just to be polite. It melted in my mouth, tangy and sweet. Cabbage and apples — who knew?
Here is the recipe, adapted to feed a smaller crowd.
Slice about 4 cups of red cabbage and 3 big apples. Granny Smith work well, but just use what you have on hand. You can peel them, but I don’t because peeling apples is annoying.
Put the cabbage and apples in a big pot along with 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves. Don’t be shy about adjusting the sugar, salt and spices according to your preference. Add water until everything is barely covered and set it to simmer on low heat for three or four hours. (To me, it smells like Christmas while it’s cooking, but I feel I should warn you that not everyone loves the fragrance of warm cabbage.) Don’t worry too much about when it’s “done.” Just cook it until it’s very, very soft and the water is gone.
This makes a sweet, spiced side dish for roasted or grilled meats. For summer meals, chill it in the fridge and serve it cold with barbecued ribs, brisket or cold cuts. It will keep for several days and tastes even better on day two or three.
Chinese Cabbage Stir-Fry
I absolutely love stir-fried cabbage — somewhere between crisp and tender, ideally with lots of garlic, ginger and salty soy sauce. It’s delicious right out of the pan (or wok) and is a satisfying partner for morsels of chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or bacon. This recipe is adapted from www.chinasichuanfood.com with substitutions for uncommon ingredients.
Take half a small green cabbage, cut off the base and separate the leaves. Remove the hard white spine of each leaf, leaving the tender green part. Wash it and dry it very thoroughly; if you try to stir-fry wet cabbage, it will lose its crunch.
Make your skillet very hot before adding 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and 3 to 6 dried red chili peppers, depending on your spice tolerance. If you don’t like a tingly tongue, skip this ingredient and add 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon coriander — or use 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, if you have them.
Next, add 2 or 3 sliced garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of fresh minced ginger. If you don’t have fresh ginger, use 1 teaspoon powdered ginger.
Now add the cabbage along with 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt (or less, according to your taste) and 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar. (These are in place of black vinegar, a traditional Chinese condiment.)
Saute for 30 seconds to a minute, and you’re done.
Next, since we’re moving into summer, I thought you’d enjoy a couple of slaw recipes that allow cabbage to shine in all its crispy-crunchy glory.
Simple Summer Slaw
This recipe is about as simple as boiling water, but if you’re having barbecued chicken, please serve this slaw instead.
Shred 6 cups of green cabbage, or 3 cups green cabbage and 3 cups red cabbage for a more colorful slaw. Dress it with 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder, and season to taste with pepper, celery seed and dill.
Red Cabbage, Carrot and Raisin Slaw
Thinly slice enough red cabbage to fill 4 cups, then peel and grate 2 big carrots and mix it all together with 1/2 cup raisins. For the dressing, add 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt, depending on your taste.
Both of these coleslaws can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight.