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Cabbage dishes for wintertime evoke images of long-simmered soups, like Russian beef and cabbage borscht or French potee, made of large hunks of meat poached with wedges of cabbage. But there are other, easier techniques for treating this nutritious cruciferous that don't demand hours of cooking and don't perfume the whole neighborhood.
Two useful time-saving tips I learned in cooking school in Paris are cutting the cabbage in ribbons and blanching it, which means cooking it briefly in boiling salted water - it needs just a few minutes - and draining it.
The French are not alone in using this method as a first step in preparing leafy vegetables. Chinese cooks also prepare cabbage-family greens by boiling them briefly and adding them at the last minute to stir-fried dishes or noodle soups.
Besides saving time, this preliminary cooking step keeps the cabbage bright green and softens its flavor and aroma, so it won't develop the strong smell and dull color which make some people dislike this healthful vegetable.
Once you've finished this first step, you can create a wholesome entree in short order.
Simply heat the cabbage with braised or sauteed chicken or meat or with tofu, cooked grains or pasta, together with a well-seasoned sauce or sauteed onions.
For putting together speedy suppers, sausages, cold cuts or other ready-to-eat meats are also good partners for the cabbage. The late Jane Grigson, a culinary historian and cookbook author whom I got to know while we worked on the Observer French Cookery School series, sometimes turned cooked cabbage into a popular, easy-to-prepare British dish known as bubble and squeak because of the sizzling noises the ingredients make in the pan. To make it, she briefly browned a little salted beef (or corned beef) in a skillet, added the cooked cabbage and sprinkled it with pepper. For extra punch, the dish was sometimes served with a brown sauce flavored with vinegar and mustard.
In an Irish variation presented in Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book, Grigson substituted mashed potatoes for the beef, mixed them with the chopped, lightly cooked cabbage and heated the mixture with a fried onion until brown.
She noted that this dish was served with butter and was a favorite for meatless days; on other days it accompanied sausages.
Tip: To quickly cut cabbage in strips or fine shreds, use a food processor, which can reduce a cabbage to fine shreds in seconds, and can make this inexpensive, nutritionally rich vegetable very quick and easy to prepare.
SAUTEED CHICKEN WITH CABBAGE AND GARLIC
Poultry with cabbage is a time-honored combination in much of central, northern and eastern Europe. Unlike many traditional recipes, this recipe calls for a brief cooking time so the cabbage remains bright green and slightly crisp. The cabbage is blanched while the chicken breast is sauteed, then is heated in the chicken juices and seasoned with garlic and cayenne pepper. Serve this dish with noodles sprinkled with caraway seeds, or with pumpernickel or rye bread. You can also make it with turkey breast slices.
Makes 2 or 3 servings
4 1 small head of green cabbage (about 450 gr.), cored, rinsed and shredded
4 Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil
4 3 boneless chicken breast halves, patted dry
4 2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
4 1â„8 to 1â„4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, or cayenne pepper to taste
4 1â„2 tsp. dried leaf thyme, crumbled
In a deep saute pan, boil enough water to cover cabbage. Add a pinch of salt and the cabbage and boil it for 3 to 5 minutes, or until just tender. Drain in a colander, rinse under running cold water, and drain thoroughly. Gently squeeze cabbage by handfuls to remove excess water.
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and saute, pressing on chicken occasionally with flat spatula, about 6 minutes per side, or until chicken has changed color throughout; cut to check. If juices start to brown during sauteing, reduce heat to medium. Remove and keep warm.
Add garlic and pepper flakes to pan and saute about 10 seconds. Quickly stir in cabbage and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Saute over medium heat, stirring, for 3 minutes, or until hot. Taste for seasoning. Spoon onto plates, top with chicken, and serve.
CURRY-BRAISED CABBAGE WITH MUSHROOMS AND TOFU
If you don't have tofu, you can substitute 11â„2 to 2 cups cooked chickpeas or other beans, or a 450-gr. can. Rice is a good accompaniment for this flavorful vegetarian dish.
Makes 4 servings
4 1 medium head of green cabbage (about 900 gr.), cored, rinsed and shredded
4 Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 3 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
4 1 medium onion, chopped
4 175 to 225 gr. mushrooms, cut in thick slices
4 4 large garlic cloves, minced
4 1 or 2 fresh hot peppers, minced (optional)
4 2 tsp. ground coriander
4 2 tsp. ground cumin
4 1â„2 tsp. turmeric
4 1â„4 to 1â„2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
4 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 1â„2 cup water
4 a 400-gr. can tomatoes, drained and diced
4 a 400- to 450-gr. package tofu, cut in 2.5-cm cubes
In a stew pan, boil enough water to cover cabbage. Add a pinch of salt and the cabbage and boil it for 3 to 5 minutes, or until just tender.
Drain in a colander, rinse under running cold water, and drain thoroughly. Gently squeeze cabbage by handfuls to remove excess water.
Heat oil in the same pan, add onion and cook over low heat 7 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add mushrooms and saute for 1 minute. Add garlic, hot peppers, coriander, cumin, turmeric and pepper flakes. Add cabbage and saute lightly, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Mix tomato paste with 1â„4 cup water and add to the pan. Add remaining water and diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer.
Add tofu. Cover and cook over low heat, occasionally stirring gently to avoid breaking up the tofu, about 10 minutes or until sauce is well flavored and thickened to your taste. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.n
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook.