A Good Appetite: You can buy one large cabbage and use it several times for different recipes, experiencing the deceptively versatile vegetable many ways. Recipes: Cabbage, Potato and Leek Soup, Crunchy Vietnamese Cabbage Salad with Pan-Seared Tofu, and Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Breadcrumbs
Green cabbage is not one of the sexier seasonal vegetables. Lacking the ruffled charm of kale or the dappled appeal of delicata squash, it is a pale, stalwart presence at the farmers’ market, there all winter long and ready when you want it — if you ever do.
Many cooks don’t. What often stops me from buying a green cabbage is the generosity of the vegetable. Most of the ones I see are as hulking and solid as a bowling ball, a pain to lug home.
Then there is the question of what to do with it once you get there. The average cabbage can weigh as much as 3 to 4 pounds, and yield more than 20 cups when shredded. That is a lot of coleslaw. Or, on St. Patrick’s Day, many, many pots of corned beef and cabbage.
The good news about cabbages is that they are the quintessential storage vegetable. You can cut a cabbage in quarters or thirds and use one piece at a time. The other hunks will keep, wrapped well in the vegetable crisper, for at least two weeks, and potentially a lot longer if you mist them with water every once in a while. That means you can buy one large cabbage and use it several times for different recipes, experiencing the deceptively versatile vegetable many ways.
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Cabbage’s sweet, mustardy leaves work well with other strong, meaty or fiery flavors like spices, chilies, garlic, bacon and mushrooms. And you can roast, saute, stew or sear cabbage — or leave it crunchy and raw.
The last time I bought a head, I used it in three recipes over the course of 10 days and each had a completely different character.
The first was a crunchy Vietnamese-inspired slaw seasoned with chili, lime and fish sauce. To turn it into more of a meal than a side dish, I fried tofu into crisp croutonlike squares and scattered them across the top, and ate the whole thing over brown rice. It walked the line between being filling and light, and made me feel very virtuous.
A member of the brassica family (along with kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli), cabbage is extremely healthful. It is dense with nutrients and fiber, yet contains practically no calories.
Which gave me plenty of leeway to toss cabbage with pasta, cheese and olive oil a few days later.
The resulting dish — penne with caramelized cabbage, anchovies and breadcrumbs — was hearty and robust, with a savory backbone from the anchovies, sage and pecorino, as well as a bite from the red chili flakes. (A note to anchovy haters: Add them anyway. They dissolve into the sauce and add complexity without any fishiness.)
The flavors were balanced by soft, sweet cabbage that I had caramelized deeply in the skillet, letting the edges turn dark golden brown.
Although I used regular pasta, I think farro pasta or whole-wheat pasta would also have stood up to the brawny flavors of the dish. Or, if you wanted to take this in a meatier direction, you could substitute bacon for anchovies, reducing the olive oil and using some of the bacon fat to cook the cabbage. Pork products and cabbage are a match made in heaven, or at least in much of Eastern Europe.
I thought about trying kimchee with the last chunk of cabbage in the fridge. But wanting something warming, I simmered a soup instead, combining cabbage with leeks, potatoes and plenty of black pepper. The potatoes melted slightly into the broth, making the texture silky, lush and even a bit sexy (at least as far as cabbage goes).
CABBAGE, POTATO AND LEEK SOUP
Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
8 cups shredded cabbage
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 thyme branches
½ teaspoon black pepper
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to serve
1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat, add the leeks and cook until soft and golden around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the cabbage and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage begins to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in potatoes, stock, 4 cups water, salt and thyme. Bring soup to a simmer and cook, partly covered, until potatoes begin to fall apart, 45 to 50 minutes. Add more water, as needed, to reach the desired consistency. Season with black pepper and serve, topped with cheese.
CRUNCHY VIETNAMESE CABBAGE SALAD WITH PAN-SEARED TOFU
Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
3 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce
Zest and juice of 1 lime
½ jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons peanut oil
½ pound extra-firm tofu, cut into slabs, ¾-inch thick
6 cups shredded cabbage
1 large carrot, grated
1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts, plus more to serve
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more to serve
1. To make vinaigrette, whisk together 2 tablespoons soy sauce, brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons fish sauce, lime zest and juice, jalapeño and garlic. Whisk in 3 tablespoons peanut oil.
2. Pat the tofu dry with paper towels. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick. When it shimmers, add the tofu. Cook 3 minutes without moving, until golden brown on the bottom. Flip and cook 2 minutes more. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce and ½ teaspoon fish sauce. Move the tofu to a cutting board, and brush both sides of each slice generously with this mixture. Cut tofu into bite-size pieces.
3. In a large bowl, toss together tofu, cabbage, carrot, peanuts, cilantro and vinaigrette. Garnish with more peanuts and cilantro.
PASTA WITH CARAMELIZED CABBAGE, ANCHOVIES AND BREADCRUMBS
Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 anchovy fillets
½ cup coarse breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
1 pound dry penne
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
8 cups shredded cabbage
2/3 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan
1. Mince one garlic clove. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the anchovies and cook, mashing with a spatula, until they dissolve into the butter. Stir in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the breadcrumbs and sage and cook until bread is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Season with black pepper.
2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until barely al dente. Drain.
3. While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the chili and cook until fragrant. Stir in the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Toss in the pasta and breadcrumb mixture and heat through, then quickly toss in the cheese and remove from heat. Season with salt and more pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.