Tuesday, June 1, 2010

painting with cabbage

Cabbage is highly underrated. Versatile, crisp, inexpensive, it pairs well with so many flavors. It calls for sweet, salty, acidic. It likes to be raw and doesn't mind a little wilt, and also loves to be cooked down to a soft soggy mess. My friend Heidi makes a Christmas eve feast that celebrates cabbage like no other. On the menu there is her infamous borscht, perhaps the best I've ever had, as well as cabbage rolls stuffed with ground turkey.

I have never been a huge fan of coleslaw. Wet mayonnaise and sugar tend to turn me off. I have grown a fonder heart for it over the years, and I must admit The Pantry downtown has a pretty stellar version of the original.

But I grew up with the Asian version of coleslaw. No mayonnaise in sight. In its place were light oils and tangy flavors. The cabbage still kept its crunch and while ingesting foods off the BBQ, heavy meats and spicy dogs, a crisp cabbage salad creates the perfect marriage.

Napa cabbage is the princess of the family. Thin and light with a sweet ruffle, this cabbage takes on the flavors better than her sisters. I also love the shocking purple of red cabbage. With a bunch of green cilantro, an orange carrot, and some Breakfast Radishes we have a palette to work with.

I was never really a fan of radishes growing up, but recently I read a blurb about the health benefits of radishes. Loaded with Vitamin C, potassium, and calcium, they contain properties which help fight cancer and are also helpful in maintaining a healthy liver and gallbladder. I love their freshness and the shock of heat after a few bites.

I start my coleslaw dressing with minced shallots that marinate in rice vinegar for 15 minutes or so. I grate down my carrots and radishes and add some cucumber for coolness. Chop your cabbages thinly, then chop it again. Salt the whole salad. Cabbage loves salt. It releases the liquid in the cabbage which I actually want in my dressing. An option is to salt your cabbage and let sit in the colander, then press it dry.

A combo of sesame oil and olive oil to coat the salad. Add your rice vinegar and shallots. Sometimes I blend in some mustard, and sometimes tahini to make it creamy and more pungent. If you have a high quality mayonnaise feel free to add that as well.
The cilantro adds a shock of rich green and an earthier flavor. This gets better as it sits. Excellent on fish tacos, next to chili, or strewn on some meaty concoction, it is a feast for all your senses.