“It is the cabbage which surpasses all other vegetables. It may be eaten either cooked or raw; if you eat it raw, dip it into vinegar. It promotes digestion marvelously and is an excellent laxative, and the urine is wholesome for everything. If you wish to drink deep at a banquet and to enjoy your dinner, eat as much raw cabbage as you wish, seasoned with vinegar, before dinner, and likewise after dinner eat some half a dozen leaves; it will make you feel as if you had not dined, and you can drink as much as you please.” – Cato the Elder circa. 160 B.C.
This will be my second Chicago winter and I’m not particularly looking forward to it.
Yes, I’m a nerdy girl who enjoys the holidays, Christmas ornaments, tinsel, jingle bells, carols, a cozy fire, the whole lot. I thoroughly enjoy the festivities this time of year, but I don’t really enjoy the desolation in the produce aisle. Goodbye to ripe, sweet tomatoes and goodbye to juicy strawberries. It’s all roots and tubers from here until spring. But then, there are the winter vegetables that come out in full force after October and among them, the lovely cabbage.
Ah, cabbage, the versatile vegetable of both acclaim and infamy. Incredibly healthy, containing cancer fighting compounds, feeding the poverty stricken masses and most likely responsible for the survival and sustenance of those unfortunate souls living in the arctic cold of Northern Europe and Asia; cabbage has also been known as the torment of the poor, plain, cheap and if boiled too long, oftentimes smells and tastes like, well, you-know-what. It is true that the taste of a raw cabbage is rustic and grassy with a slight pungency, and boiling releases unpleasant sulfuric compounds, but I find cabbage a quintessential addition to my kitchen repertoire.
Cabbage belongs to the botanical genus Brassica, and is related to broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, and radishes. First cultivated in the Mediterranean, and eaten by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, cabbage is a close cousin to a variety of mustard plants. The condiment mustard, also first used in the Mediterranean, is made from the seeds of Brassica plants and compliments these vegetables well. This is why mustard and cabbage go together perfectly.
Acid is an ally to cabbage. It aids in retaining crispness and intensifies the flavors; hence why so many cultures pickle the leaves. Oh, sauerkraut, I would be lost without you.
This time of year, you can bet that I will be eating a lot of cabbage. The spicy green cabbage leaves are perfect for snacking. I used to munch on rolled cabbage leaves spread with peanut butter. Sliced red cabbage makes a beautiful addition to any salad. One of my favorite comfort foods is a hot sauerkraut sandwich with swiss cheese served on pumpernickel rye.
Here’s one of my winter favorites:
Braised, Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
1 small head of red cabbage (1-2lbs)
1 sweet apple (honeycrisp, braeburn, pink lady)
1/4 cup sweet white onion, chopped
2-4Tbsp red wine vinegar (season to taste)
1-2tsp of salt
1-2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 cup red wine (you’re call, a cheap merlot or cabernet is fine)/you can sub apple cider for the wine
1 tbsp olive oil or butter
In a deep pot over medium-high heat sautee the onion, apples and spices in the oil/butter until the apple begins to soften (2-3mins). Add cabbage, and salt and cook for 5-8mins until slightly carmelized. Add the wine/cider and put a lid on the pot. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer until the cabbage is soft (15-20mins).
This dish is filling on its own but also makes an excellent side-dish. Meatavores can enjoy it with a plate of sausage, or a roast chicken. I usually serve it up with a grain, try brown rice or quinoa. Cabbagelove.