For the last month, cabbage has been a staple at the dinner table. The simplicity and crispness of raw cabbage salads in January might be the perfect antidote to the rich dinners of December. Also, when the weather gets very cold, cabbage takes on a sweetness that it lacks at other times of year.
Raw cabbage goes very well with other members of the brassica family: broccoli, dark green tuscan kale, curly kale, and sweet, raw brussels sprouts.
Because this is a one dish meal and involves no cooking, I like to take my time and shred everything to exactly the right consistency when I make raw salads from cabbage. First, I remove the greenest outer leaves from the cabbage and wash them well. I cut out their cores and save them – as I have recently learned, one should always save cabbage, kale and broccoli cores for making pasta sauce. This is the second part of cabbage “two ways” and I will go into it below.
Next, I roll up these cabbage leaves like a cigar and chop them finely to get long strands. I throw them into a large bowl and then cut the tightly-bound cabbage center in half, remove the core and shred the same way.
Then I move onto the kale. Kale eaten raw must be treated differently than cooked kale: you don’t want to eat the bitter raw stems so it’s best to remove them and, again, save for use later. For these salads, I use [tuscan kale], also called lacinato kale or cavolo nero, since the texture of its leaves is flatter than the curly varieties. After washing, I simply tear the green leafy part away from the stem and chop it into bite-sized pieces.
At this point, I make the dressing. Several versions on an olive oil and lemon juice mixture work well here. The simplest is a mix of 3 parts good olive oil to 1 part lemon juice and 1 part soy sauce. This works well on its own or with 1 avocado, diced and mixed into the salad at the same time you add the dressing. Crisped bacon is also delicious as an add-on. If you don’t have avocado or bacon, try toasting a spoon of sesame seeds and throwing them into the mix. Another of my favorites is 3 to 1 oil and lemon juice plus grated parmesan cheese to finish. Parmesan and cabbage are a heavenly combination. Or, just oil and lemon (3 to 1) and a good pinch of salt work fine too.
Once the dressing is made, I wash my hands, and add the dressing to the chopped kale and cabbage, and massage it into the leaves with my fingers. Ten minutes in oil and lemon juice will soften their hard edges and bitter bite.
While the leaves are “marinating,” I chop up any remaining ingredients (broccoli, brussels sprouts etc.). I like to thinly slice the broccoli on the bias, so that you get longish but thin stalks that roughly match the size and shape of the cabbage threads. Brussels sprouts should be shredded finely too.
When this is done, I put it all together and give it one more toss with my hands. I usually add a ton of black pepper, which never hurt anything.
So, to review:
Cabbage Salad (as a main course for two)
1/2 a medium-sized savoy cabbage
1/2 head of tuscan kale
1 large head broccoli, stem removed and saved
A handfull of brussels sprouts (optional)
1 avocado and/or chunks of crisped bacon (optional)
For the dressing:
3 parts olive oil
1 part lemon juice
1 part soy sauce
Freshly grated parmesan to finish
Shred, chop and dice the vegetables as discussed above, doing the kale and cabbage first, mixing your dressing and avocado if you use it and letting those things marinate for a while. Then add in broccoli, sprouts and whatever else you’re using, toss and serve in large bowls.
Chopsticks are the best utensil for eating this salad, which is fine alone and even better accompanied by a plain omelette, cut into thin slices and dipped into the extra dressing that falls to the bottom of the serving bowl.
Having saved all of your cores, you will quickly accumulate enough through the week to make Tamar Adler’s core, stem and leaf “pesto” that is so good with pasta or rice you might start buying cabbage just to cut out the cores and make this dish. Other than the cores, you’ll need decent olive oil and a good parmesan-style cheese – a must for the dish.
One note about this otherwise delicious and amazingly thrifty dish: I find that while cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower create a nicely textured sauce, using the stems of swiss chard, bok choi, kale and other very fibrous plants can result in a more stringy texture. This may not bother you, but I personally prefer to weight my mix of stems and cores it on the side of cabbage and broccoli parts, going lighter on the kale/chard/collard stems.
Tamar Adler’s “Garlicy Leaf, Stem and Core Pesto”
4 to 5 cups leafs, stems and cores of kale, cauliflower, swiss chard, collard greens, broccoli or cabbage, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
Put your pieces of cores and stems into a smallish pot and add water to cover only half. Salt the water well. Add the 1/2 cup of olive oil and three garlic cloves and bring this mixture to a simmer. Taste the water at this point and make sure it’s flavorful and salty.
Simmer everything uncovered for about 20 minutes. If you lose water during this process, it’s fine. You don’t want to add water unless it all boils off and the pieces start to burn.
When pieces are smashed easily with a wooden spoon, they’re ready. Take the pot off the heat and add the solids and about a cup of the liquid to a food processor. Pulse a few times, adding the cooking liquid as you go to thin if necessary. This is actually better if there are some chunks left in it so you don’t need to blend until smooth.
I like to add grated parmesan cheese while it’s blending, and then put it back on the stove and add more, and maybe a bit of liquid. This is delicious with hot pasta, mixed with a little of the pasta water to make a sauce, or served on its own aside meat or fish as you would mashed potatoes.