Column: Cabbage adds some crunch to winter

One of my favorite winter vegetables is the cabbage. I know that typically the cabbage does not get a whole lot of love. My father’s first job was picking cabbage in the field, and he still talks about how the air smelled when all of those cabbages had been harvested; it wasn’t good. But I find that the cabbage is wonderfully versatile, delicious when prepared well, and brings a great crunchy texture to the plate that can otherwise be lacking during the winter.

Cabbage can be as fancy or as simple as you like. When I am looking for a quick but surprisingly tasty side dish, I often slice up cabbage (I prefer red for this one), put it in a shallow pan with some water, cover it and let it steam a little bit. Once it is softer, I take the lid off, add a little oil and a generous amount of Ume plum vinegar, and stir-fry it to finish so that in the end it is more crispy than soggy. It’s quick and easy, with very few ingredients, and deceptively rich in flavor.

If you don’t know what Ume plum vinegar is, let me tell you that it is worth buying a small bottle and finding out. It’s a little salty and a little sweet, and adds a great “je ne sais quoi” to dishes. Whenever I cook with it for guests, I always get compliments and questions about what that new flavor is.

Another thing cabbage does well is a basic salad. I hesitate to call it coleslaw; the type of dish I am thinking of has larger, more roughly chopped pieces of cabbage and less mayonnaise. Our cook here at the Well School, Rachael Austin, makes a great version of this that I am always excited to see on the buffet line. Chop up your cabbage in wide strips (again I prefer red for this, but that’s more of an aesthetic thing; white works just as well). Mix up some mayonnaise, white vinegar and a little bit of a sweetener such as maple syrup or honey. Add sunflower seeds and golden raisins to the cabbage, and then toss lightly with the vinegar mixture.

You can also try adding different things to the salad, such as chopped parsley or cilantro, or sliced raw onions for more of a kick. A healthy serving of this on a plate next to a burger or grilled chicken makes a good meal.

Catherine McCosker is the farm and CSA manager at The Well School in Peterborough.

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