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1.12.2005

Outline of a Theory of Cabbage

Be warned: I’m baring my geek stripes. If you’re of weak constitution, please avert your eyes.

Since our lengthy discussion of soufflé, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about cabbage. After all, whenever I’m plotting a soufflé for dinner, cabbage inevitably shows up, usually bringing its posse of caraway seeds, vinegar, and an apple or two. It doesn’t take much to convince me to eat this humble crucifer, and anyway, the unctuous, dairy-rich egginess of a cheese soufflé truly has no better match than the sweet-tart earthiness of braised cabbage. I think a lot about these sorts of things, and about social science. And that’s where things get geeky.

Today, while riding the bus home from work and school, I wracked my brain for a way to “pitch” cabbage to you, skeptical reader. Surely I don’t have to tell you that, in the U.S., the cabbage is woefully misunderstood. Never mind the fact that German kids are eating sauerkraut as soon as they have teeth, or that corned beef and cabbage may well be the best thing to come out of Ireland, ever. Here it is roundly reviled, or at least disliked enough to permit me this slight exaggeration. So as the bus rattled north toward home and dinner, a silent conviction took shape within me: cabbage must be defended! What we have here is cabbage under siege! Cabbage must no longer be linked to discipline and punishment; no, it’s part of the natural order of things! By the time we arrived at my stop, I had it: an outline of a theory of cabbage.

Dear reader, you know that it’s time to close the book on graduate school when even vegetables call to mind famous works of social theory, such as Michel Foucault’s “Society Must Be Defended,” Discipline and Punish, and The Order of Things; Zygmunt Bauman’s Society Under Siege; and Pierre Bourdieu’s Outline of a Theory of Practice. I wince just typing this, and I pity my poor companions on the bus, who I probably blinded with the blazing rays of geekiness emanating from my feverish brain.

But I’m deathly serious about this defense-of-cabbage business. Nearly everyone I consider a friend shares my appreciation for it, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if our friendship were in fact based upon some cabbage lover's force field we mutually exert upon each another. And on some level (far below consciousness until this writing), I’ve been putting men to “the cabbage test” for years: I’ve eaten the stuff in some form or other with every man I’ve taken seriously, and honey, it works every time. Often they're okay with geekiness too.

So, when you start daydreaming about what to serve with your soufflé (or anything else, for that matter), please give this theory a try: I hold that, under both controlled and uncontrollable conditions, one who tries braised red cabbage with apples and caraway seeds will come back begging for more,


and the same goes for an even simpler preparation, sautéed green cabbage with apples and red onions.


A Pinot Noir would be nice as well, and a bookmark.



Braised Red Cabbage with Apples and Caraway Seeds
Adapted from The All New Joy of Cooking

2 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs finely chopped red onion
1 small head red cabbage (about two pounds), quartered, cored, and very thinly sliced
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and coarsely grated
3 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs honey
1 tsp salt
1/8 to ¼ tsp caraway seeds


Heat oil in a large, nonreactive skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook until translucent and slightly golden. Add cabbage, apple, vinegar, honey, salt, and caraway seeds; then cover pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is very soft but not falling apart, about an hour.

Serves roughly 4. Delicious warm, at room temperature, or cold, straight from the fridge.


Sautéed Green Cabbage with Apples and Red Onions
Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables

Olive oil
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
1 medium green cabbage, quartered, cored, and very thinly sliced
1 large crisp, sweet apple, such as Golden Delicious, cored and very thinly sliced
Salt
Pepper
Apple cider vinegar

In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat a little oil and sauté onions until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the apples, and sauté one minute, or until everything is sizzling. Add the cabbage, the salt and pepper, a dash of vinegar, and a little water. Stir over high heat just long enough to barely soften and cook the cabbage, a few minutes. It should retain a little crunch but lose the raw flavor of uncooked cabbage. Adjust seasoning, and serve.

Serves 6 to 8. Delicious warm or at room temperature.

23 Comments:

Blogger Niki said...

Read cabbage and apple is FABULOUS! I only discovered it through a Dutch boyfriend, who also got me loving sauerkraut. As I explained how good the red cabbage was to my (Australian) mother, she told me her mother made it all the time when she was a kid and she loved it too. The things us women can bond over....it's just so poetic..... ;-)

6:08 AM, January 13, 2005  
Blogger Miss Tenacity said...

I concur with your cabbage defending stance. My first go at getting to love cabbage was via Julia - her coleslaw recipe in The Way to Cook (done w/o the mayo). I then quickly started doing other varieties, including a spicy Asian influenced combination. Slaw rules!

Thanks for the recipes - I've got a head of red just waiting for me at home.....

10:01 AM, January 13, 2005  
Blogger debbie said...

I get such a little thrill every time I see a recipe on your site! It's silly, I know, but I just can't help it.

5:17 PM, January 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Three cheers for cabbage, ladies! Glad to know I'm not alone, although in theory it would be okay if I were--that way, more cabbage for me!

Esurient, aren't you the one behind the "Disaster Cake" of SHF #4? And Miss Tenacity, I believe I've seen you around eGullet! I go by "cheeseandchocolate" over there. Thanks for coming to visit...

And Debbie, I'm so glad it's thrills this time, although the talk of strangulation was an exciting departure from the norm!

5:45 PM, January 13, 2005  
Blogger dave said...

My wife and I went to Alsace a while back and had Choucroute Garnie (sp?) frequently. It was heavenly. It's sauerkraut with a variety of meats and sausages.

Cabbage unfortunately needs this defense, and you gave it a fitting one. Good job.

7:52 PM, January 13, 2005  
Blogger Niki said...

Ja Ja - 'twas me of ze disaster cake fame. Disastrous, but tres yummy.
(Forgive the language. It's late and I'm supposed to be packing for a pleasant weekend in the country singing Haydn and Mozard. La di daaa!)
Niki (aka esurient)

6:24 AM, January 14, 2005  
Blogger Niki said...

Umm...yeah. That'd be Mozart, rather than that fake, pirated, black-market version with a "d".

6:26 AM, January 14, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

Oh Molly, can we still be friends even if I admit that I don't always love cabbage? Sometimes I do, I swear. I mean, what is a not-dog without mustard and a large scoop of kraut and what is a Swedish pizza without pizza salad (a type of slaw--more on that later)? But I confess there are times when cabbage dishes are too sweet for me.

Thanks to a friend, though, I have recently become a fan of apples in green salads. Caraway seeds are a fave and I never get the chance to cook with them. Therefore, I promise to try out your theory with one of these recipes as soon as I get my hands on a suitable head of the stuff.

6:36 AM, January 14, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Amy dear, not to worry! Kraut on your not-dog? That alone earns HUGE points and allows you to refuse a few cabbage dishes here and there without penalty. But do try that braised cabbage with caraway seeds. I think you'll be sold on it. It would be damn fine on a hot- or not-dog too.

8:37 AM, January 14, 2005  
Blogger Mark said...

I was wondering how to cook cabbage differently on Thursday night, and it occurred to me to combine it with eggs in a Spanish-tortilla sort-of-way! OK, so it was basically a cabbage omelet, but with only enough egg to bind it together. The richness of the egg went well with the bitter green savoy cabbage leaves, finely sliced and steamed beforehand.

The one thing it could have done with was some chopped tarragon, I think, but ALL of the herbs at the local supermarket came from a country I am boycotting, so sans herbs it was. The sacrifices I make for my ethics ;-)

10:06 PM, January 15, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Dave, I hear you on the choucroute garnie. I have not been to Alsace (YET!), but a few years ago I had a choucroute garnie (with fish, seeing as I was still anti-meat then) with my dad at Bofinger in Paris, and oh man, sauerkraut. [Sigh.] On the whole, though, Bofinger, while beautiful, is only so-so in the actual food department. But who can argue with choucroute garnie?

And Mark, your sense of ethics is admirable! And that cabbage-egg tortilla-esque concoction sounds wonderful. Very much up my alley.

11:25 PM, January 15, 2005  
Blogger TanTian said...

A whole nation of Cabbage Lovers is waiting to befriend you. In China, there's cabbage lurking in at least one dish on every menu, and in the fall, in every hallway, where people store the cabbages that don't fit in their apartments. It was an unexpected cold weather treat to discover so many cabbages, bound in string and sitting in placid little piles, waiting patiently until my hungry neighbors needed them.

8:24 PM, January 21, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

TanTian! I DREAM of having so much cabbage that it won't fit into my apartment! Oh, visions of placid little piles...

10:35 PM, January 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cabbage it is. I prefer mine stuffed with meat, rice, and raisins, in an aromatic sauce of suteed onions and cabbage shreds, tomato, olive oil, brown sugar, vinegar, and caraway seeds.
Your dear Unc, Arnold.

5:44 PM, January 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

My dear, dear uncle, WHY do you live so far away?

10:17 AM, January 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because Mount Desert Island in Maine is so utterly beautiful. Pink granite, black basalt, and crashing ocean. There's a local 'soul food' called Corned Hake with Pork Scraps. And if it's lobsters we want, we just go down to the town dock at 3 in the afternoon, and buy them off the boat.
So, my dear, dear niece, why do YOU live so far away?
Unc Arn

5:46 AM, January 24, 2005  
Anonymous MichelleSY said...

Hello Molly, it's a nice drizzly evening in Brisbane and I've been trawling through the archives of your blog. A perfect moment for a perfect bit of reading I must say =)

But yes, am definitely a huge fan of the humble cabbage. I don't know if this is because having grown up in Asia, I managed to escape the inevitable burden associated with vegetables (including the poor maligned brussel sprout)

As a result, I can't get enough of cabbage - steamed, sauerkrauet-ed or otherwise.

But my favourite still has to be Mom's trusty old standby - stir-fried cabbage strips jazzed up with nothing but a bit of garlic, soy sauce, a scattering of reconstituted dried shrimp and a splash of chinese sherry. Yummo!

And defnitely keep up the good work, geek rays non-withstanding. Lucky is the vegetable that is defended by Orangette!!! =)

1:24 AM, January 25, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, MichelleSY! Your mother's cabbage sounds wonderful! I'll have to fiddle around at the stove and see if I can recreate it...

7:32 AM, January 25, 2007  
Anonymous Madeline said...

You have converted a former non-believer. I just finished making the braised red cabbage with apple and caraway, and it is DELISH! Who knew the unglamorous cabbage could be so tender, so lovely, so sweet?

I shall now join you in defending cabbage to the death. To the death!

6:42 PM, February 10, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Madeline, that makes me so happy! Welcome to the pro-cabbage camp.

5:30 PM, February 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Molly, I have been reading through your archives, and as an anthropology grad student I found your Bourdieu and Foucault references hysterical! I love your writing, your ideas, and most of all, your random ethnographic references-- keep up the great work!

1:18 PM, July 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

amazing!
our fridge is in a sorry state, and we're scrimping a few pennies until the end of the week - but, by some strange alchemy, we have all the ingredients for the red cabbage!
horray! we WILL eat tomorrow after all!

6:15 PM, June 04, 2008  
Blogger JensRad said...

I chastised my mom a while back for having never in my entire life fed me a brussels sprout, being that she's not a fan herself. It was only after reading your entry about the cream braised version that I decided to give them a whirl, and as my roommates can attest, I was pretty well obsessed for a while there. Then yesterday I perused THIS entry, and later when faced with the "stare into the fridge, find something for dinner" conundrum, I spied a fresh bag of sprouts, an apple, and a sweet onion. I sort of remembered the recipe for the sauteed cabbage, improvised, and a new obsession was born! It's a good thing, because it was getting hard to justify the regular consumption of heavy cream by how healthy the brussels sprouts are.

5:08 PM, October 14, 2009  

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