Speedy cabbage sautés

A few simple flavorings make even plain boiled cabbage taste good.

cabbage sautes (photo credit: MCT)
cabbage sautes
(photo credit: MCT)
With the release on January 31 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are updated every five years, came an important piece of advice: “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.”
If you look for good value when you purchase vegetables, cabbage should be at the top of your list. Nutritious and inexpensive, it’s worth including in menus often. “When I explain that healthy eating does not have to be expensive, cabbage is my best argument,” wrote Martha Rose Shulman, author of The Very Best of Recipes for Health, adding that “many nutritionists consider the cruciferous family of vegetables to which cabbage belongs the most beneficial family of vegetables.”
Yet some people are prejudiced against this valuable vegetable. A friend of mine told me that her husband would not allow her to cook cabbage when he was in the house because he disliked the odor while it was simmering. In her new book, Vegetable Love, Barbara Kafka explains why: “Great green cabbage got a terrible reputation during the many years that it was virtually the only green, non-root vegetable to last through the winter. It was generally old, overcooked and smelly.”
The key to enjoying cabbage at home is learning how to cook it right. When you taste raw cabbage, you can detect an element of sweetness. Cooking cabbage briefly softens it slightly and keeps in its sweet flavor, while making it more satisfying than when raw.
To cook cabbage quickly, I use three methods: Sautéing is usually my choice, followed by microwaving. When I need a large amount of cabbage, too much to fit easily in a skillet or sauté pan, I boil it briefly. No matter which technique I use, I shred the cabbage or cut it in ribbons so that it will cook rapidly and evenly. I keep the cooking time short, just until the cabbage becomes wilted.
A few simple flavorings make even plain boiled cabbage taste good. Drain it and heat it with a flavorful oil, such as olive oil or sesame oil, or a bit of butter, and sprinkle it with salt and freshly ground pepper. For a little punch, add chopped garlic or curry powder. Kafka suggests finishing cabbage sautés with caraway seeds or coarsely chopped black olives.
Like potatoes and eggplant, cabbage is good with spicy flavorings. Whenever I have fresh hot peppers that would overwhelm a dish of zucchini, cabbage gets along with them just fine.
All sorts of protein foods, from chicken to chickpeas to cheese, turn quick-cooked cabbage into a speedy entree. Sauté ground chicken or beef with the cabbage, add cooked rice, and you have the components and flavors of stuffed cabbage without the extra effort. Use chickpeas instead of the chicken for an easy vegetarian meal in one pot. Or use lentils, following Shulman’s formula: Combine cabbage sautéed with onions and garlic with a lentil and potato stew and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. For a simple supper dish, top sautéed cabbage with an egg, sprinkle it with grated cheese and bake it until the egg is done to your liking.
Cabbage is a traditional partner for cured meats and is great with all sorts of sausages, whether spicy or sweet. If you have a cooked sausage, you can slice it and heat it in the cooked cabbage, for a hearty, very fast meal.
Warm winter salads are wonderful when made from sautéed cabbage. Just drizzle the cabbage with a little vinegar, top it with feta or goat cheese and perhaps a sprinkling of capers, and you have a lively appetizer or whole-meal salad. Kafka’s hot cabbage slaw is topped with seafood and sweet peppers sautéed in olive oil and flavored with lemon juice and zest. In Master Chefs Cook Kosher by Judy Zeidler, California chef Bruce Aidells makes a wilted cabbage and roasted walnut salad. He sautés shredded cabbage for a short time so it retains some crispness, adds a little vinegar and soy sauce and serves the warm salad garnished with roasted walnuts.
To shred cabbage easily, quarter the cabbage with a sharp knife to make it easy to remove the hard white core. Then cut each quarter in strips with the knife, or use a food processor fitted with a shredding disk.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.

 I learned to prepare this dish, which combines the ingredients of stuffed cabbage, into a fast, easy entree, from my Yemen-born mother- in-law. Make it with ground beef, chicken or turkey, or, for a meatless meal, use soy ground meat or add cooked or canned chickpeas.
Alternatively, omit the meat and serve the spiced cabbage and rice topped with hard-boiled eggs for a quick, satisfying supper dish.
Makes 5 or 6 servings
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil 2 onions, sliced 340 gr. to 450 gr. ground beef, chicken or turkey 1 small head cabbage (450 gr. to 500 gr.), shredded (about 7 or 8 cups) 2 cups long-grain white rice
4 large garlic cloves, chopped 11⁄2 tsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. paprika 1⁄2 tsp turmeric salt (optional) and freshly ground pepper to taste 41⁄2 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
Heat oil in a large stew pan. Add onions and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes until softened. Add meat and sauté, stirring to separate it into small pieces. Add cabbage, cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
Add garlic, cumin, paprika, turmeric and rice and sauté for 2 minutes. Add broth, and pepper; add a pinch of salt if using water instead of broth. Stir and bring to boil. Cover and cook over low heat, without stirring, for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Fluff lightly with a fork. Serve hot.
Serve this sauté as a side dish or a warm salad. Instead of Roquefort, you can use any blue cheese, or substitute feta or goat cheese. Pecans are a good alternative to the walnuts.
Makes 4 servings.
800 gr. green cabbage, quartered and cored 6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, or some of each Salt and freshly ground pepper 3 Tbsp. mild white wine vinegar (5 percent acidity) 1⁄2 to 2⁄3 cup coarsely crumbled Roquefort or goat cheese 3 to 4 Tbsp. walnuts, toasted (see Note below)
Shred cabbage with a sharp heavy knife or in a food processor fitted with a shredding disk. You will have about 10 or 11 cups of shredded cabbage.
Heat half the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add cabbage, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté, tossing often, for 5 minutes, or until barely tender. Transfer cabbage to a large bowl. Cover and keep warm. Repeat with remaining oil and remaining cabbage.
Combine both batches of cabbage and add vinegar. Toss well. Add half the cheese and a pinch of pepper and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot or warm, topped with walnuts and remaining cheese.
Note: To toast walnuts, put them on a tray and bake in a 175º oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until aromatic. Transfer them to a plate.