Monday, August 31, 2009

Who needs rice when you have cabbage?

cabbage headToday I bring you a culinary tip involving cabbage.

Despite my fierce appreciation for Cabbage Patch Kids growing up, I never thought much of cabbage. I just sort of assumed I didn't like it, having heard bad things about starving poor people having to subsist on little else, encountering it overboiled in our German junior high cafeteria, and finding the sight of sauerkraut unappealing.

It took years before I realized that it wasn't true. I really did like cabbage. Those crunchy purple strips in the salad bar — cabbage! I loved those things, often eschewing lettuce for crunchy purple strips with spinach leaves. Sauerkraut, it turned out, tasted good when you actually put it in your mouth instead of just turning up your nose at it.

And, several years ago, Sam and I discovered the joys of pico de gallo. At our favorite Mexican joint, we could not get enough of their tangy, limey mixture of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. But when we tried to replicate it at home, something was missing. Ours was just not as crisp, tending toward mushiness. We kept returning to the restaurant (no great burden) to inspect the salsa at our leisure. What were the white crunchy bits that were filling out the pico? You can guess where I'm going with this — cabbage!

The problem with adding cabbage to our at-home version of pico de gallo was that we then had 3/4 of a head of cabbage still sitting in our fridge when we were done preparing a heaping bowl. Some of you may be very smart and know just what to do with cabbage at home. We are the kind of people who read those tips on "how to sneak greens into your kids' food" — not because we feel the need to sneak. I like veggies, cabbage obviously, kale, chard, spinach, brussels sprouts, you name it! It's just that I can't always figure out how to eat leafy veggies when I'm not having a salad.

Then Sam had a brainstorm. I was cooking up some traditional foods recipes, and all of them called for a grain to go underneath the main slop of the day. (I actually really love the taste of those recipes, but all of my versions were visually suspect. Are all traditional foods recipes something like a stew?) Due to using up whatever ingredients happened to be on hand (I'm big on tossing whatever looks good into a pot — see stew-like result above), I always had way more slop than grains. So we'd have enough rice or amaranth or whatever to last us the first dinner, but none for the next four days of leftovers.

Sam was dishing up our leftovers one day and grabbed the partially used head of cabbage sitting on the floor of the fridge. Out he came from the kitchen bearing two plates of gooey traditional goodness sitting atop a bed of fresh, crisp, julienned, raw cabbage.

Let me tell you, I don't want to go back to rice. It was so good. The cabbage taste is mild, so all you really got was texture: crunchy, watery, bursting texture to offset the savoriness of the stew on top.

And preparing a cabbage bed is so much easier than cooking rice or pasta or couscous, particularly if you're trying to do it a traditional, soaking way with dry rice. You don't have to cook or prepare anything in advance. As soon as you're ready for it, just grab the head of cabbage and start chopping it onto the plate. If you slice across the cross-section, you'll naturally get some nice strips — cabbage confetti!

So, if you're an expert in using up a whole head of cabbage in other ways, please do share in the comments and then ignore me. But if you're looking for an idea to incorporate leafy veggies into non-salad meals, give the cabbage bed a try! It might sound odd, but it tastes delicious.

Photo courtesy diego medrano on stock.xchng


Ayie said...

i do! well I'm an asian descent so it's common for me to consume rice =P

Lauren Wayne said...

Don't worry -- I still love rice. :) In fact, I think what's missing from my life right now is a rice cooker.

Erin Violet Taylor said...

@Hobo Mama
Rice cookers are wonderful! So easy. Mine is one a friend bought for me in has only one button, you push it down and it cooks the rice for you. That's the kind of simplicity I am looking for XD I use it all the time! Definitely worth the investment.

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