Fresh From the Farm – Katie Malich

I couldn’t resist buying one of the beautiful heads of savoy cabbage at the Findley Farms stand at the Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market. The thin, crinkly leaves have an elegant, fetching beauty which is matched by their sweet and tender taste. While the pliability of its leaves makes the savoy cabbage ideal for stuffing, I wasn’t in the mood for something that heavy. Instead, I chose to slice six leaves into 1/2 inch strips and quickly stir-fried them in oil along with a quarter of a sweet onion, a sliced clove of garlic, a 1 inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced, and a dollop of Asian fish sauce . Served along with a piece of lightly poached white fish, cooked rice and a citrus fruit salad, it was a quick and easy way to pack a lot of nutrition into a weeknight meal.

Cabbage is available year round, but is at its best during fall and winter months. Its cousins in the cruciferous vegetable family include kale, collards, mustard greens and brussels sprouts. Cruciferous vegetables, also referred to as brassica vegetables (from the Latin word for cabbage) pack a powerhouse of nutrition, and cabbage is no exception. It is an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C. It is also a good source of fiber, manganese, folate, vitamin B6, potassium, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), calcium, magnesium and vitamin A. Cabbage, especially red cabbage, contains phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, which researchers believe have anti-oxident and anti-inflamatory properties. Phytochemicals are believed to help protect against cancer.

All cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur compounds, which may also protect the body. If you’ve been in a kitchen or cafeteria where cabbage has been boiled until it is limp and soggy, you’ve noticed cabbage’s infamous smell. Luckily for our nutrition and noses, overcooking cabbage is becoming a thing of the past. Quickly steamed and raw cabbage offer the most nutritional benefit; long boiling reduces nutrient content as well as producing that infamous cooked cabbage smell.

Over the weekend, I was gifted with two heads of red cabbage. Somewhat tougher and more strongly flavored than the savoy cabbage I’d enjoyed earlier in the week, red cabbage packs a strong nutritional punch because of its high level of anthocyanins. We’re all familiar with the stunning color contrast that red cabbage gives a mixed green salad. And many of us have enjoyed the sophisticated blend of sweet and sour found in braised red cabbage with apples. But I was in the mood to try something different. The New York Times’ Recipes for Health, from wonderful cook Martha Rose Shulman, featured a week of red cabbage recipes last February. I adopted the stir-fried Tofu, Red Cabbage and Winter Squash recipe for another quick and healthy week-night cabbage meal. The great thing about cabbage and winter squash is that they could be prepared ahead of time, so that you can get the meal on the table that much sooner when you get home. You could also pre-slice the tofu, as long as you keep it refrigerated covered in water. I added some fish sauce and substituted Splenda for the sugar. Honey would make a marvelous substitution, too, especially if you love the sweetness of sweet and sour.
Green cabbage is wonderful in coleslaw or as an ingredient in vegetable soup. I was surprised to find out how delicious it can be when cooked simply with butter. You can add a bit of onion and herbs or spices for additional flavor, if desired.

Tofu, Red Cabbage and Winter Squash.
(serves 4)
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons peanut oil (substitute canola if you don’t have peanut oil)
1/2 pound firm tofu, cut in 1- x 2-inch dominoes
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 pound orange-fleshed winter squash, such as butternut or k, cut in 1/2-inch dice
Salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds red cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped

optional: add some chopped yellow or red pepper as you are stir-frying, for additional color and flavor
In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon soy sauce, the fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and cornstarch. Set aside.

If you have a wok, use it for the stir-fry. A large pan will work fine if you don’t have a wok. Place the wok or pan over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and heat until a drop of water sizzles and evaporates upon contact. Add the tofu, and stir-fry until lightly colored (about 3 minutes). Remove from the pan. Season to taste with soy or fish sauce. Set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the wok or pan. Place over medium-high heat, and heat as before. When the oil is hot, add the butternut squash. Stir-fry until it begins to color, approximately five to eight minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and salt to taste.. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds before add the cabbage. If you are using chopped peppers, add them now. Stir-fry until the squash is tender and the cabbage is crisp-tender, about six minutes. If the vegetables begin to stick, add about 1/4 cup water to the pan and continue stir-frying. Return the tofu to the pan.. Stir the sweet and sour mixture, and add to the vegetables. Stir just for a few seconds until they are glazed. Remove from the heat. Serve with cooked rice or asian noodles.

Buttered Cabbage
(4 servings)
4 T butter
1 onion quartered and sliced
1 small-medium head green cabbage
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 bunch parsley, rinsed, stems removed, chopped.

In a large saucepan or skillet melt the butter and add the onion. Saute over medium-low heat until the onion is soft but not brown. While the onion is cooking, chop the cabbage into small pieces and toss with the salt (at least a tablespoon). Allow to drain in a colander while the onion cooks. Bring a kettle of water to boil and when the onion has softened up, pour the boiling water over the cabbage, washing away the salt. Add the cabbage to the pan; stir while it wilts. Cover and braise over low heat until the cabbage is tender, approximately 10 -12 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add parsley and mix thoroughly. Cook for an additional 30 seconds or so, then serve. This recipe brings out the inherent sweetness of the cabbage without sacrificing all of its nutrients.

If you enjoy cole slaw and asian-fusion food, try this Asian Cabbage Slaw recipe adopted from a Margarita Farms Community Supported Agriculture recipe.

1-2 green thai chiles, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T sugar
2 T rice vinegar
3 T lime juice
3 T nam pla (fish sauce)
3 T canola or grapeseed oil
1/2 head shredded savoy cabbage (you’re looking for about 4 cups)
3 carrots, shredded
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
3/4 c mint leaves, stems removed, chopped
1/2 c cilantro, stems removed, chopped

pepper

optional: roasted peanuts, mint sprigs and/or cilantro sprigs for garnish

Combine the thai chiles, garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, lime juice, nam pla, and oil in a bowl. Whisk well.  Set aside. Toss all the vegetables together.  It’s best to sprinkle the carrots in a bit as a time as you add the other vegetables to avoid them clumping together.  Toss with dressing.  Garnish with peanuts and cilantro or mint sprigs, if desired.  Best served at room temperature.
It is untrue that Baby Katie was found in a cabbage patch. Like everyone else, she was brought by a stork.
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