I tried my best, I really did, but I think there is simply no way to make cooked cabbage look attractive. Even the word cabbage is ugly – it’s staccato and has that icky [dj] sound at the end which makes it sound like the flatulence it has been said to induce. A raw cabbage leaf is really the best I can do. To add to its unfortunate appearance when cooked, cabbage is associated with stench, need, and poverty, implying that you only eat it if you have no other choice. Well, I object.
I grew up eating cabbage (and, yes, I admit that a large part of Russia’s cuisine evolved out of need) and happen to like it (if not its English name) a great deal. I know for a fact that there are acceptable and interesting uses for this vegetable besides mayonnaise-drowned coleslaw. There is pickled cabbage (my grandmother’s is best but oooh kimchee – not at all Russian but so very tangy and spicy and wonderful), cabbage soups, and braised or stewed cabbage just to name a few, none of which will make your house smell like that of a pauper in a Dostoevsky novel.
For all my cabbage enthusiasm and loyalty, I have never cooked it myself. It never occurred to me to go out and buy a simple head of cabbage. Somehow I always got distracted by leeks or fennel or something along those sophisticated and elaborate lines. Luckily, I didn’t have to go anywhere – it came to me in my Boston Organics box. This led to a phone call to my Mom and the birth of what I now call Pink Cabbage.
The cabbage is cooked with onions until it’s soft but not mushy, and is colored slightly pink by tomato paste. That’s it. I can’t figure out if that’s a braise or a stew or a sauté or wilting, and I know that I am in no condition to go through more schooling to find out (more school may well break me), so any help is appreciated. Pink Cabbage is simple, relatively fast, not stinky, and has a lot of flavor for little input… all those pluses but it’s still ugly. I took a picture just to say I did, so here you go:
This recipe has the infuriating characteristic of all those handed down from one’s Mother - the measurements are a dash of this and a pinch of that. The point is that the amount of ingredients you need depends on the size of your cabbage. If it’s large, use a large onion and slightly more tomato paste. My cabbage was teeeeeny (organic, remember?) so I used a smaller onion to match. The amounts I listed are for a smaller head of cabbage.
1 head of cabbage, sliced or shredded
1 onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 tsp tomato paste
½ tsp sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1) Saute onion in olive oil till softened and golden.
2) Add cabbage and salt it aggressively – the salt is needed to break down the cabbage and get it to release some of its water. Cover with lid and cook over medium-low heat till most of the water from the cabbage has evaporated.
3) Add tomato paste, sugar, and black pepper to taste. The cabbage should turn slightly pink – add more tomato paste if your cabbage is larger. Cook with lid on for about another 10 minutes until the cabbage is soft but still a little resistant to the bite. Al dente, if you will.
P.S. Hidden behind ugliness and lousy reputation is cabbage’s nutritional value – it’s really good for you. Cabbage is super low in calories and has a lot of vitamin C, and it’s umami. And now for some more cabbage leaf pictures, because I was on a roll.