I think I might be close to doing that to the poor, innocent cabbage.
When I was first learning how to eat … no, not how to use a fork and spoon, but how to really eat … One of my first nutritional discoveries was that your basic iceberg lettuce is a waste of space, a weed that has found its way into the American kitchen thanks to fast food joints and crappy diet plans. (A discover, I should add, that, like most nutritional information, is only partially true.) Sure, it’s low-cal … and low-taste, low-nutrition, low-everything. But it’s easy to grow and takes well to American soil, so we grow a ton of it … five million tons, more or less, more than anyone but China.
But it’s a waste of time, of space, of chewing, even (or so I was told at the time), and I moved on to heartier leaves and heads as one of my strides into a healthier and tastier way of living. Color means vitality, so more vibrant heads are the way to go, more often than not.
At some point on this journey, I decided that anything calling for lettuce would get either cabbage or spinach, two of the better choices from a nutritional standpoint. So I went a little nutty with the cabbage, forcing its way into every recipe until, as could be predicted, I got a bit sick of it, and off to limbo it went.
This past winter, thanks to the folks at Spilled Milk, I reacquainted myself with cabbage. But this time, it wasn’t just a substitution for lettuce, but the centerpiece of a recipe. I made braised cabbage on more than one occasion, after listening to them go on and on about Molly Steven’s recipe (and deservingly so!). Then for St Paddy’s I made their colcannon. I made up a couple of other ways of making cabbage a side dish unto itself, and not an ingredient in something that inevitably tastes a wee bit too much like something that’s trying too hard to be healthy. (Start with the SM colcannon, but cook the cabbage with onions and add a dash of balsamic vinegar before mixing it with the spuds. Delish.)
And in doing so, I rediscovered the veggie that I had over-done the first time around. Okay, it is one of the healthier things on the produce shelf. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It has a pretty darn decent shelf life, making it a good item to keep around. It’s cheap. And a little bit goes a long way.
For instance, just a tiny bit of finely chopped cabbage brings a little life and vibrancy to posole. Chop it up, put it in the bottom of the bowl, then ladle the posole over it, and it adds both brightness and crunch to the stew.
In the summer time, my favorite use of cabbage is in tacos. It just seems to go better with a soft, warm tortilla and succulent, spicy meat than your standard lettuce, which wilts under such scrutiny. Cabbage will hold its own, providing some crunch and texture, no matter how much salsa or fire you add to the mix.
Why don’t people use cabbage more often? Mostly because if knife skills aren’t your thing, it can look like a chore to chop it up. I’ve heard folks complain that when they’re done chopping it, they have cabbage shrapnel all over the counter and even the floor. And because a little bit goes a long way, and folks think the rest will go bad before they get around to finishing it. Personally, I’m not buying either excuse. As long as you wrap up the exposed face of a head of cabbage, it won’t mind a bit that you hacked off a quarter or an eighth and saved the rest for later. As for knife skills, all you really need is a good 8 inch chef’s and a cutting board a little bit bigger than you thought you needed at first, to keep the occasional cabbage projectile from leaving the counter top.
Not so much a recipe as just a couple or three tips.
Tortillas: wrap them in foil and put them on the warm (not hot) part of the grill for 10 minutes or so right before serving. Or after you’re done with everything else, just throw them on the grill individually, unwrapped for half a minute or so per side.
Salsa: Take your pick. No wrong answer.
Rice: You can put it in your taco, or have it on the side. Put the rice in a sauce pan with a little bit of oil and a shake of Mexican oregano. Stir it around so the rice is evenly coated, then put it on the stove over medium-high heat for about a minute. Instead of plain water, add half water, half chicken broth. Cook per the instructions for your type of rice.
Other toppings: cheese, sour cream, cilantro, chopped olives, chiles.
Fish: Typically a white, flaky fish, like cod, mahi-mahi or tilapia. You can marinate it if you want, but I like a simple rub. Try one part Cajun blackening spice, one part ancho chile powder, with a dash of sea salt. Times vary, but fish cooks quickly so it’s typically 4-6 minutes per side. As soon as you take them off the grill, give them a squirt of lime juice and let them stand for a couple of minutes before flaking them into your taco.
Sides: the aforementioned rice, grilled veggies, refrieds, or burracho beans. To make gringo burracho beans, either open a can of black beans or soak and boil dried black beans, as you normally would prepare them. Then, an hour or so before dinner, add 8 oz of a crisp lager (do not use an IPA or other bitter beer — will leave the beans with a burned aftertaste). Add a dash of cayenne and/or cumin and stir it all in. Bring to a boil, then simmer partially uncovered until the liquid is mostly gone.