Cool for cabbage
Date: 27-02-2018 published by Nick Baines
Continually overlooked, the humble cabbage has been a consistent, but perhaps under-loved ingredient in UK kitchens. Other than being boiled to death in stews or served alongside more lackluster Sunday roasts, the hardy winter vegetable shares similar notoriety as the Brussels sprout, the anti-hero of childhood dinners.
However, things have changed significantly for the cabbage. Kimchi, the fermented Korean condiment of cabbage and chilli, has played a huge role in the brassica’s makeover. This fiery, funky relish has been adorning gourmet hamburgers and punching up a variety of ‘bowls’ whether they’re under the banner of Buddha bowl, grain bowl, or a simple, but strong bowl of noodles. In fact, kimchi opened up the doors for the more basic ferment sauerkraut, which is currently having its day in the sun with artisan small batch producers flogging it at every farmers market across the country. And it’s a diverse product. Some producers have been riffing wildly on kraut, throwing in everything from pineapple and ginger, to beetroot and plum. This is all making sauerkraut a juicy, dynamic and versatile product that has left this boring vegetable almost unrecognizable.
The rise in Mexican food has no doubt helped the cabbage’s appeal too. Shredded white cabbage features heavily in a variety of tacos, tortilla soups and enchiladas, and gives great textural contrast to items like tostadas, panuchos and salbutes. Dressed with an abundance of lime juice, fresh coriander, salt and pepper the shredded raw ingredient is lifted to new highs and carries none of that old sweaty stench that you get from boiling it.
With the ever growing popularity in plant based diets, clever chefs are looking at more exciting ways to present humdrum everyday items. This is where the cabbage really excels. Strewn through biryanis or entangled in curries, there’s an earthy depth of flavour released when roasted or fried.
In the Ukraine, they stuff cabbage leaves with minced beef, pork and rice to create meaty little parcels called golubsti, which is a very bleak, but flavourful mid-winter meal. Takes on colcannon are also a great place to flex your prowess with cabbage, nothing like bacon, poached egg and mashed potato to deliver a rich bubble and squeak style dish.
Then of course, there is the ubiquitous slaw. Your more traditional coleslaw partners cabbage with carrot and onion, with far, far too much mayo (maybe salad cream) and sugar. However, more ambitious slaws allow this crisp brassica to stand proud and deliver that deft crunch it was born to do. A simple dressing of Dijon, garlic, cider vinegar, a drizzle of honey and some fiery chilli flakes (go for Korean gochugaru chilli flakes for added depth) and a little rapeseed oil for a truly epic slaw worthy of topping the most pristine beef burger you can summon.
With some creativity cabbage can be anything but boring and has successfully shaken the shackles of mid-century British boiling for good.
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