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Mindful : February 2014
February 2014 mindful 31 Raw, steamed, stewed, sautéed, braised, or pickled: cabbage shines in plenty of supporting roles. For maximum enjoyment, treat it with some respect. By Angela Mears Like opera singing, cabbages can be sublimely pleasing or ridiculously un- pleasant to the senses. It depends on the preparation. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten was a humble dish of marinated raw cabbage served at a Szechuan restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown. The chili-flecked amuse-bouche arrived at our table almost immediately, better than a basket of warm bread, giving off an irresistible aroma of numbing chili oil, vinegar, and soy. It was unutterably good—so good that the restaurant got wise and stopped giving it away for free. Cabbage also starred in the worst meal I’ve ever eaten. Served in the kitchen of a childhood friend by her indifferent A Humble Head father, the heap of unseasoned red cabbage on my plate had been boiled for so long it had sta rted to yellow. I hadn’t seen an ing redient treated with so little respect—and, thankfully, I haven’t since. That was the first time I encountered the unpleasant odor of overcooked cabbage. It comes f rom hydrogen sulfide, the same noxious gas produced by hot springs, volca noes, and some well water. In large quantities, hydrogen sulfide can be corrosive and quite poisonous. In smaller doses, it’s a smell you just don’t want in your kitchen. But even sulfurous clouds have their silver linings. When not evaporated away by too much boiling, the compounds that give cabbages their distinct stink are thought to be powerful ca ncer fighters. Red cabbages in particular, with their high a ntioxida nt levels, have earned a place a mong nature’s most nutrient-rich superfoods. Their dense-leaved, pur- ple-veined heads also contain healthy amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and fiber. Cabbages peak in cold weather months, when the chill brings out their sweetness, but they can be enjoyed any time of year, in both winter soups and summer slaws. They’re adaptable and versatile—silky or crunchy, bland or bright, pungent or sweet. Split open a head of red, and you’ll find an intri- cately veined, jewel-toned cross section that looks like white sunlight bursting through shattered stained glass. There’s just something about the mix of humble- ness and utter beauty. And the red stuff is just as versatile as the more common g reen. A resourceful cook can summon up countless recipes from a single head. There’s wa rm and chewy red cabbage braised with bacon, the crunchiness of a vinegar y coleslaw, or the bite and beauty of an entrée-wor- thy salad. Above all, though, I love cabbage at its plainest, sautéed with butter, sprin- kled with salt. It’s proof that even the simplest ing redient, treated well, can become a feast. ● Angela Mears writes about food at thespinningplate.com (Serves 4) 2 tbsp butter 1 red onion, chopped 1⁄2 medium red cabbage, finely sliced with a mandoline (about 6 cups) 2 red cooking apples, peeled, cored, and diced 1 cup fresh apple juice 1 bay leaf 2 tbsp red wine vinegar 2 tbsp chopped parsley Salt and pepper, to taste Red Cabbage and Apple Stew In a large pot, heat the butter. When melted, add the red onion. Cook over medium to low heat for 3 minutes or until fragrant, making sure not to brown the onion. Add the red cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until it softens. Add the apples, apple juice, bay leaf, and red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, for an hour to an hour and a half. Sprinkle with parsley and serve to accompany grilled meat. one taste