Diogenes advised the young man, “If you lived on cabbage, you would not be obliged to flatter the powerful.” To this, the courtier replied, “If you flattered the powerful, you would not be obliged to live on cabbage. “
we still had a pound and a half of cabbage after the preacher eater’s adventure in kimchi. The fermenting project netted us a huge jar of fruity-peppery, gingery pickled cabbage and carrots with plenty to gift to the neighbors, but half a head of Savoy and an entire red cabbage began accruing squatter’s rights in the left crisper drawer.
virtuous, humble and reliable, cabbage earned accolades in ancient Rome and held its own among the French Court of Catherine de Medici. It plays mythical roles from beau diviner to baby-maker to faerie land wormhole gateway. Ubiquity and poor handling put this staple out of favor. Outside of the obligatory 4th of July coleslaw and a few dedicated sauerkrauters, we mostly avoid cabbage, rumored to generate stink as it cooks and after you eat it. Like so many misunderstood foods, these unfortunate experiences are not really the cabbages’ fault, yet the stigma remains.
so she was gasping when she called me from the farm share pick-up, Guess what’s in the share? Cabbage!
we almost swapped that cabbage out. Our CSA site has a box to trade stuff you might not want: hate broccoli? take your neighbor’s unloved turnips. One cook’s trash is after all…
we had a cart like that in grade school in the gym turned lunchroom. I kept my much maligned salami sandwiches to myself but always took a cruise around the table for anything interesting. It was perpetually teaming with inside-out pb&j sandwiches mangled in transit, bashed up bananas, and overly red apples that you knew were mealy despite stiff and shiny skins. Disappointing. Although the CSA swap box held far more promise, the farmer was giving us Napa cabbage, a new variety for our growing collection. Humbled to fate, perhaps, we decided to confront our cabbage surplus head on.
as soon as our newest cabbage arrived home, we went right for the heart, putting away 3 bunches of outer leaves and pulling the central leaves for instant salad. We also shredded that lingering red cabbage, mixing half with shredded new beets and olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper—jarred this.
for Instant Gratification CSA Salad, combine a quarter of a red cabbage, shredded, with the innermost pale green leaves of Napa cabbage in a huge glass bowl. Rinse a handful each of the finest of spinach and beet greens. Stem the spinach and roll the beet greens up like a cigar, slice them and add to the other greens. Scrub and slice thin three Japanese radishes—not those leg of lamb sized Daikon, these were round like typical red radishes but pure white and milder—and add to the salad.
then come the scapes, wonderfully loopy and green, like bracelets. Discard the stringy tips at the bulb end then slice the bulb just below the neck then slice it open lengthwise. Slice a few inches of the green stem the same way, long, elegant, on the diagonal. Rinse off a handful of pea pods, pop off the stem end if it is tough (ours were utterly edible). Slice in half if they are long then lengthwise, right through the peas, split their tiny equators. The cutaway of the inner landscape is pretty like the scapes. Heat a small frying pan over a medium flame and pour in a few slugs of olive oil. Toss in the scapes and the peas, salt and pepper and toss them around over high heat for a few minutes, until the peas are bright green. Dump right from the pan into the salad bowl and toss. Squeeze half a lemon over the whole thing, toss some more and serve. This salad accompanied BBQ tempeh sandwiches to our table.
the next night, several bunches of Napa leaves went into a skillet pie reminiscent of stuffed cabbage rolls but far less work:
break dried spaghetti into 1-inch lengths for about a cup of broken noodles; boil and drain them. Cook a cup of quinoa for about 15 minutes in 2 cups of boiling stock. While the grains and pasta cook, chop several scapes (or garlic) and shell some peas. We had about ¼ cup of peas and saved the pods for miso soup. Toss garlic and peas with the pasta and grains in a big bowl along with salt and pepper. The stock we had on hand was deep with mushroom flavor, which I think made this the best sort of comfort food, a dish that draws the eater in to pause then wraps you in thick, familiar flavor, smelling really good.
in a big, cast iron skillet, sauté half an onion, chopped, in a bit of butter and olive oil. Add ½ a pound of tempeh, chopped, along with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and paprika, turning and cooking until it begins to brown. Ladle in about a cup of stock and a few stalks of spicy basil or other herbs then bring to a simmer, steaming the tempeh. When the stock has evaporated, turn the tempeh in with the grains and stir. Let this all cool just a bit then crack in an egg, stir.
preheat the oven to 400° and wipe out your heavy skillet. Melt 3 tablespoons or so of butter and spread a layer of bread cubes (about 3 slices of bread, cubed) along the bottom of the pan. Season and toast the bread over high for a few minutes, turning to coat all sides in butter. Smooth out the bread layer and cover with the grain/tempeh and over that layer several rounds of Napa cabbage leaves. Crumble fresh feta and shred some parmesan cheese over the leaves; dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika. Bake the whole thing for about 20 minutes, until the leaves are soft and cheese is melted. In a bigger casserole, there could be a few layers and, I imagine, delectable.
we have some of the remaining cabbage earmarked for miso soup, and surely the last bit of red cabbage will go into our daily lunch salads, or maybe this kale and cabbage slaw. Getting through all this cabbage was originally about conquering it, but this affair turned out much tastier triumphs. And we still have kimchi.
** with affection to alice & her creator, who gave me so many things to talk about then eat