The conversation at dinner went a little something like this:
Joel: “Oh my gosh! This is so good! This cabbage is suspiciously delicious. Is it actually meat or something? Is there bacon in here?”
Me: “Umm, no. I don’t know. There’s no bacon.”
Joel: “Well, then what did you put in it that makes it taste like that?”
Me: “Maybe the ginger?”
And thus was born “suspiciously delicious cabbage.” It really is kind of remarkable, because when you look at the list of ingredients, it doesn’t seem like much. But the resulting cabbage is creamy, infused with the flavors of onion, garlic, and ginger, and amazingly addictive. So very much more than the sum of its parts. The caramelized bits from the cabbage suffuses the cream with umami, and the ginger gives a unique, but mellow, sophistication.
I based this braised cabbage off of a recipe that I saw in a Food & Wine magazine from several years ago. Looking back at it, the original recipe was actually for kale, and called for all sorts of other things like turmeric, and buttermilk, and steaming. Apparently the only things I actually took away from the recipe were ginger and cream. But, I like to think that those were really the important things. I wanted others to know about my newly discovered cabbage recipe, so I posted it on Food52. Then I entered it into the contest for ‘your best vegetarian holiday side dish.’ It was a vegetarian side dish, so why not? I thought no further of it until a couple of weeks later, much to my surprise and delight it was chosen as one of the two finalists for the competition! I was so incredibly flattered and excited.
I won’t build up any suspense here – after all, we just want to get to the recipe, right? So, I’ll tell you right off the bat that I didn’t win. I didn’t really expect too. Cabbage (even delicious cabbage) can be a tough sell, and I thought of it as a dark horse. Plus, it was up against a truly gorgeous and creative squash dish with an apple fennel relish. This cabbage dish, for all its merits, is not exactly a looker. No whistles and cat calls when it walks down the street. It’s a little more like your best friend – you don’t care what they look like because you know they’re wonderful and comfortable and dependable. And they have a little character!
But, you don’t have to take my word for it! (Channeling my inner Lavar Burton there – remember him?) By virtue of its being the runner up in the competition, I received all sorts of wonderful feedback and compliments from people who had a chance to cook the recipe. This, my friends, is a cabbage with testimonials! “It’s the kind of dish that inspires you to keep sneaking forkfuls long past the end of the meal.” One cook called it “rock star cabbage.” Someone told me that a relative of theirs who hates vegetables ate it, and afterward told his mother that she could cook it for him every day the rest of his life, and he would be happy. Still another said her children who normally “throw up a little in their mouths” (ewwwww) at the thought of cabbage, ate it “like it was their last meal.”
Now, don’t you think it’s time you give it a try?! (p.s. I also have a dish that won a wild card round on food52 last summer, if you’d like to check it out )
Suspiciously Delicious Cabbage (serves 4-6)
- 1 medium green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon (heaping) grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 cups heavy cream
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- In a very large pan, heat the butter over medium heat until it is melted and starting to bubble a little. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened.
- Stir in the ginger and cook for about a minute. Then, add in the cabbage, stirring well to coat it with the butter and other flavors. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes, until the cabbage has softened and caramelized.
- Turn the heat to low and stir in the cream making sure to scrape any browned bits up from the pan bottom. Cover and cook over low for about 10 minutes. Uncover, add salt and pepper to taste. Then cook for a few more minutes, stirring once or twice, to let some of the liquid evaporate. Adjust seasonings as desired and serve.