Mmmm, cabbage. The food of my people. For centuries Norway was a poor country, perched up at the top of the globe – the last stop before the North Pole. If it hadn’t been for cabbage, cod, and rutabagas, (and various uplifting drinks, I’ll admit) Norwegians would never have survived their long, dark winters. (Then they discovered oil in the North Sea, which allowed them to become obnoxiously wealthy…but still loveable, I like to think). Norwegians still eat a lot of cabbage now. I know I, for one, have an affinity for cabbage set deep in my heart. And, in Norway you can actually buy pre-cooked and spiced red or green cabbage in little plastic pouches that you heat and eat. Talk about a culturally specific convenience food!
I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to cabbage, too. You can do a lot of different things with cabbage, and I like most of them (except boiled. Just say “no!” to boiling vegetables, especially cabbage!): coleslaw, sweet and sour, stir-fried, kimchee, sauerkraut, braised…This is great because it’s one of the cheapest veggies you can get throughout the winter, and it stores for a really long time in the refrigerator. Though I love cabbage, I have a sneaky suspicion that there are many people out there who, shall we say, do not harbor quite such fond feelings toward the vegetable. I know that if you really, truly, absolutely detest cabbage, I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise. But, I would like to think that a lot of the distrust toward cabbage out there is either due to not really giving it a try, or to suboptimal preparation. I mean, otherwise how could you not want to eat a vegetable that looks kind of like a crazy green or purple brain when you cut it in half! I used to do food programs with children, one of which consisted of preparing and sampling cabbage. I would coax the kids to taste it, usually by acting like a total wacko and making up weird names for it like “purple power plant” and “fried green brain.” And, to the shock and amazement of the parents, every child who actually tried the cabbage liked it. I like to flatter (translation: delude) myself that I’ve really enriched some people’s lives as a result.
My recipe for red cabbage – which is actually purple colored, so the name is misleading – takes a while and is a family secret that I’m not quite willing to reveal yet, though it may come in time. On the other hand, one of my favorite ways to prepare green cabbage is also one of the simplest – slowly browning it, kind of like caramelizing onions. Whenever you’re cooking cabbage, you need to give it a longer cooking time than a lot of other vegetables (most veggies are pretty quick when they sautee because you just want to get them to the point where they’re starting to be soft but still have a titch of crunch). This gives the flavors time to mellow and sweeten, otherwise it has a kind of sharp bite. Browning it slowly also brings out a kind of nutty, almost Parmesan cheesy, fullness of flavor. It makes a great side for any wintery sort of supper, like a roast, fish, sausages, and so on.
To prepare cabbage for cooking, first remove the outer layer of leaves. Then you don’t even really need to wash it. Cut it in half vertically (so that each half has some of the stemmy part at the bottom), then remove the bottom stem, which reaches up into the body of the cabbage. You do this by kind of cutting it out as a wedge, getting out all the solid part and leaving the stuff that looks like squiggly layers. Next, cut each half crosswise into thin layers, like you would if you were cutting an onion into half moons, and cut these into halves or thirds, depending on how long you want your strips. The strips will come apart as you cook them.
Buttery Browned Cabbage (4-6 servings, depending on how much cabbage you eat – I’ll eat half of it myself in one sitting, but that’s me.)
- ½ large green cabbage, stem removed, cut into thin strips
- 2-3 Tbs. butter (or olive oil, if you must)
- salt and pepper to taste – I tend to like mine with a good dose of salt
- If you have it, a little white wine or sherry
- Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the cabbage and stir to coat with the butter. Cook on medium, stirring, for 10-15 minutes to brown the cabbage, then turn the heat down to low or low-medium and allow to cook another 15 or so minutes.
- If you’d like and you have it, towards the end of the cooking time, add a splash of wine or sherry and stir. This just adds an extra punch of flavor. Salt and pepper to taste. I generally prefer the cabbage without any additional seasonings, but you can add some if the spirit moves you – sometimes I throw in curry powder, which goes well with the nutty sweetness of the cabbage and adds an interesting dimension. Sometimes I also add some chopped toasted nuts, like pecans hazelnuts, or pine nuts.