Cabbages and kings
I didn’t really enjoy eating cabbage that much growing up. I mean, who did? And I can’t ever recall eating really grand cabbage dishes, with the exception of a dish called choucroute garnie. It is for this reason that I feel strangely compelled to help cabbage find a place in the trend-driven world of food.
Of course, I have eaten some lovely regional cabbage dishes through Europe and Asia, and to this day one of my favourite dishes to eat is choucroute garnie – my first cabbage epiphany. Ordered at the iconic restaurant Bofinger in Paris, it’s not simply a dish of pork and sauerkraut but an extravaganza. Choucroute garnie is a concoction of six cuts of pork and sausages, braised for hours on end, in a mound of cabbage. It must be served with a pot of Dijon mustard and is best eaten alongside a glass of Alsatian riesling.
Cabbage is a reliable vegetable, available year round and useful for those between-season times, when summer vegetables drop off and we are impatiently waiting for the autumn and winter vegetables to come in. But cabbage is not just restricted to the colder months, and is great in the middle of summer to make a lively Vietnamese-style shredded chicken and cabbage salad. Not to mention the waxy cabbage coleslaw served at nine out of 10 barbecues in this country.
A cabbage’s use can only really be restricted by your imagination. In the past year alone, I’ve eaten it braised, pickled, fermented, salted, boiled, stuffed, grilled and steamed. A new discovery at our local butcher is high-quality preseasoned sausage mix that can be purchased before it goes into sausage skins. I recently stuffed walnut-sized nuggets of the mince into blanched cabbage leaves, rolled them up and braised them in the oven for an hour with herbs, a splash of white wine and chicken stock. My Irish ancestors would have been proud.
The three main cabbages available are the savoy, Chinese and what I call the waxy cabbage, from which most coleslaw is made. This shredded cabbage salad recipe is a perennial favourite and a staple on my menu. All that is required is a delicate hand when dressing: too much and you are left with a wet, dripping mess. Finesse is key to maintaining the texture and balance.
Shredded cabbage salad
Serves 6 as a side dish
– 1½ tsp honey
– 2 tbsp chardonnay vinegar
– ¼ orange, finely zested
– 125ml olive oil
– 1 tsp lemon juice
– ½ a wombok (Chinese cabbage) or about 4 cups of shredded
cabbage in total
– ½ bunch dill, leaves picked
– ½ bunch mint, leaves picked to yield 1 cup, loosely packed
– 1 large golden shallot, peeled and finely sliced
– pinch dried chilli powder
First make the dressing. Whisk the honey, vinegar and zest in a small mixing bowl. Slowly add the oil, whisking all the while. Once the dressing is emulsified, season with lemon juice and salt to taste.
Remove the cabbage leaves, wash and dry well. Stack a few at a time on top of each other and shred them finely. Shred the herbs the same way and add them to the cabbage along with the sliced shallot.
To serve, toss the salad with two tablespoons of the dressing and a pinch of salt. Taste and add more dressing if required. Finish with a sprinkling of chilli powder.
This slaw-like salad has been a staple in the restaurant for six years. We serve it alongside a dry-aged rib eye but most barbecue meat will work well. The salad is equally delicious strewn on a platter and sprinkled with lumps of fetta cheese.
Roast Jerusalem artichokes
Serves 4 as a side dish
Terrific with roast pork, duck or game.
– 12 Jerusalem artichokes
– 1 tbsp honey
– ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
– pinch salt
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tsp thyme leaves
– salt flakes
– 50g hazelnuts, roasted, peeled and chopped
You will need a non-stick pan, with a lid or a suitable object that will double as a lid.
Scrub and break off any knobby pieces of the Jerusalem artichokes. Roughly peel, leaving about 20 per cent of the skin intact. Slice lengthwise into one-centimetre thick slices.
Whisk the honey, cinnamon and a good pinch of salt into quarter of a cup of warm water.
Depending on the size of your non-stick pan, you may need to cook the artichokes in two batches. Warm the butter and olive oil gently in the pan, until the butter has melted. Add the artichokes and sprinkle over the thyme leaves. Cook gently over a medium heat until golden on both sides.
When both sides are golden add the seasoned water. Cover with a lid and turn down the heat. Cook for five minutes. Take a peek from time to time to ensure the water has not completely evaporated and add a little more if necessary.
After five minutes, remove the lid and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated. The artichokes should be soft and giving but retain their shape when pierced with a knife or skewer. Remove from the pan and arrange on a warm platter. Season with salt flakes and a sprinkling of hazelnuts.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 12, 2014 as "Cabbages and kings". Subscribe here.