Cabbage for springtime

To many, cabbage salad means coleslaw, but there are plenty more options.

Cabbage370 (photo credit: Photos courtesy: Thinkstock)
(photo credit: Photos courtesy: Thinkstock)
Many consider cabbage to be a winter vegetable and use it for stuffing or for adding to hearty, long-cooking Russian-style meat soups. Yet this healthy, inexpensive vegetable is available year round, and I find good quality cabbage in the spring. With the warmer weather, I opt for lighter, faster-cooking cabbage dishes – quick soups, salads, stir-fries and sandwiches.
Cabbage soups can be fresh, light and vegetarian. East Asians excel at making these kinds of soups, often pairing cabbage with mushrooms in a light broth. Nava Atlas, author of the just-published book, Wild About Greens, uses Chinese cabbage in her bean-thread noodle soup with greens and shiitake mushrooms, seasoned with soy sauce and green onions. She flavors a cabbage and tofu soup with mushrooms, dry wine and soy sauce.
To many Americans, cabbage salad means coleslaw made with grated carrots and a sweet mayonnaise dressing added to the shredded cabbage. The sweet flavor of raw cabbage also marries well with tangy, savory and spicy flavors. For this time of year I prefer my cabbage salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar.
Gordon Ramsay, whose London restaurant has three Michelin stars, gives a recipe for a simple, fresh coleslaw with European and Asian flavors in his new book, Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite. He combines green and red cabbage with Chinese cabbage and marinates them in a dressing of sesame oil, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and whole-grain mustard. At serving time he tosses the salad with plenty of snipped chives.
For a cabbage salad with Middle Eastern flavor, you can pair shredded cabbage with tehina sauce, as they do in Egypt. Paula Wolfert, author of Mediterranean Grains and Greens, seasons this salad with cumin and serves it with grilled fish steaks. From Jerusalem chef Moshe Basson, Wolfert learned to prepare a refreshing salad of shredded cabbage and purslane with green onions, diced cucumbers and baby greens, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
Chinese cabbage contributes a delicate flavor and crisp texture to appetizer salads and to briefly cooked side dishes. For a colorful salad, I mix Chinese cabbage with finely shredded red cabbage, chopped spinach, diced cucumbers and an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. To prepare a quick side dish, Atlas stir-fries Chinese cabbage and chard in olive oil and heats them with browned leeks, shallots and hot red pepper flakes. A cabbage stir-fry also flavors her Vietnamese pasta dish with tomato- garlic sauce, tofu and spinach; it is garnished with chopped peanuts and basil leaves.
Cabbage is good in sandwiches, and not just as coleslaw to accompany frankfurters in buns. Sauteed cabbage is satisfying enough to be a sandwich filling’s main element. When I want a wrap sandwich, I sometimes make a spicy cabbage taco by filling a warm tortilla with cabbage sauteed with onions, chilies and turmeric and mixed with chickpeas. I also make a sabich-style sandwich using cabbage instead of eggplant. First I spread humous on whole wheat bread, top it with cabbage that I sauteed with onions, and add a little diced amba (pickled mango) and slices of hardboiled egg. These sandwiches are a departure from tradition but with cabbage, as with other foods, there’s merit to keeping an open mind.
Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast and of the award-winning book, Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.
This recipe is from Wild About Greens. Author Nava Atlas writes that it is an easy rendition of traditional Chinese cabbage and bean curd soup. “Once the flavorful mushroom broth is ready, the rest of the soup comes together in a flash.”
In addition to the customary Chinese cabbage, Atlas adds a splash of extra green from spinach or tatsoi, a type of Asian cabbage with attractive, round deep-green leaves that can be ordered in Israel from specialty growers.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 small onion, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced 8 to 10 dried shiitake mushrooms 2 Tbsp. soy sauce, preferably reduced-sodium, or to taste 1⁄4 cup dry white wine or cooking sherry 1⁄2 head Chinese cabbage, cut into short ribbons (about 6 cups) 1 cup small fresh mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced 225 gr. (8 ounces) tofu, cut into 1-cm (1⁄2-inch) dice 2 big handfuls baby spinach 2 to 3 green onions, green part only, thinly sliced Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To make the mushroom broth, combine the onion, garlic, dried mushrooms, soy sauce and wine in a small soup pot with 6 cups of water and bring to a slow boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Scoop the mushrooms out with a slotted spoon. Cut away and discard the stems and slice the caps; return them to the broth.
Add the Chinese cabbage and fresh mushrooms to the broth and return to a gentle boil; then lower the heat, cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cabbage and mushrooms have softened. Stir in the tofu, spinach and green onions and cook just until the greens are wilted. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and serve at once.
Serve this satisfying dish as a healthy accompaniment for fish, chicken or meat. You can also make it the center of a lunch or supper and serve it with yogurt, feta cheese or hard-boiled eggs. If you’d like to serve the cabbage with rice as a room-temperature salad, sprinkle it at the last minute with chopped parsley, fresh coriander or green onion.
For meatless meals, you can use butter instead of olive oil. If you like, prepare the dish with brown rice, following the variation.
Makes 4 main course or 6 to 8 side-dish servings
2 or 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil 2 medium onions, quartered and sliced thin 1 small head cabbage (454 to 500 grams or 1 to 11⁄4 pounds), shredded, or 8 to 10 cups packaged shredded cabbage 2 cups long-grain rice 6 large garlic cloves, chopped 1 tsp. ground coriander 2 tsp. ground cumin 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric pinch of ground cloves 1 liter (1 quart) vegetable broth, chicken broth (for nondairy meals) or water Salt and freshly ground pepper A 400-gr. (15-ounce) can tomatoes, drained and diced, or 1 to 2 cups peeled, diced ripe tomatoes
Heat 2 or 3 Tbsp oil in a stew pan. Add the onions and saute over medium heat, stirring often, for 7 minutes or until softened. Add the cabbage and a pinch of salt, cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 7 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cloves and rice and mix well. Saute, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth and pepper; if using unsalted broth or water, add 1 to 11⁄2 tsp salt. Stir and bring to boil. Cover and cook over low heat, without stirring, for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle the tomatoes over the cabbage and rice mixture. Cover and cook for 7 to 10 minutes or until the rice is tender. Let stand, covered, for about 10 minutes. If you like, add another Tbsp olive oil. Toss gently with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve the rice hot or at room temperature.
VARIATION - Cabbage with Brown Rice: To make this dish with brown rice, use the same proportions. Cook the rice for 30 minutes before adding the tomatoes.