Month: March 2014

All about Cabbage

I hope your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations went well, complete with green beer and some traditional Irish dishes of stew, corned beef and cabbage, or cabbage and mashed potato! Many of A. and N.’s friends have been vegetarians since high school, and I’ve learned how tough it is to incorporate a vegetarian palate into traditional festivities. The following two cabbage dishes can become part of your vegetarian repertoire, and you can come prepared for any party!

Cabbage used to be classified as a cruciferous vegetable, but an updated list has it under the classification brassica vegetables. This group includes: Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cauliflower, and broccoli. They are also called “cole” crops, as cabbage and broccoli were often made into coleslaw.

There are five main types of cabbages:

  • Green – the most commonly found cabbage has tightly interwoven leaves that form a perfect ball-shape. Its mild taste makes it a great candidate for salads and sauerkraut. It retains its shape when steamed, but it cooks down to a tasty, mushy base in a stew.
  • Red – its shape is like that of the green cabbage, but it has a stronger, earthier taste. Red cabbage is often combined with green cabbage for a shot of color in salads.
  • Napa or Chinese cabbage – has an elongated shape (looks like bok choy) with long, pale-green leaves. It is sweeter than the above two.
  • Savoy – it is shaped like green and red cabbage, but it has curly, ridged leaves.
  • Bok choy – its leaves are dark green and has a subtle flavor.

Tips on getting the most of this vitamin C and potassium-loaded vegetable:

  • Cabbage is best steamed with little or no water. Boiling or cooking it in the microwave destroys most of the nutrients.
  • Add a little lemon juice to red cabbage to prevent it from turning a purplish-grey color.
  • Shred the leaves just before you start cooking – cabbage starts losing the nutrients once it is cut.

Sauerkraut

This is an easy recipe that requires no cooking experience.  Pickling vegetables is an old way of preserving the harvest long past its prime-growing season. The main ingredient for preserving vegetables is salt. Fermentation, the shortened (yet still unattractive) name for the scientific process called lacto-fermentation, occurs naturally. Salt leaches out moisture, and the cabbage ferments in this brine solution. Hence the translation of “sour cabbage.” The process taps into the same good bacteria that go into making yogurt, Korean kimchi, and Colombian curtido. I am not a big beer drinker, but drinking beer with a side of crunchy sauerkraut with just a hint of tanginess remains my favorite memory of Prague. The dish was a far cry from the soggy mass that is usually available in stores.

For ½ head of green cabbage

  • Remove the outer damaged or tired-looking leaves.
  • Cut the cabbage in half, and shred the cabbage with a sharp knife or in a food processor. Remove the hard center.
  • Wash the shredded cabbage and drain.
  • Clean out a large non-reactive container (a glass jar or ceramic pot) in hot water.
  • Place the shredded cabbage in the jar, and add 1 – 1 ½ tbsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional) and ½ tbsp. whole peppercorns.
  • Place a sterilized weight (stones or a can resting on a cabbage leaf) on the shredded cabbage. This is an important step; the weight keeps the leaves submerged in the brine solution. Exposed leaves may develop mold. I don’t add water. If after a day you do not have a salt solution, then add a little water. Store the jar in a cool area or in your refrigerator. Tamp it down (I used my rolling pin) at least couple of times each day over the next 3-14 days. It is safe to eat at any time during this period, but if you notice that as the solution bubbles up and a frothy scum forms on the surface, do not be alarmed. Skim off the foam. Sauerkraut keeps for a long time in the refrigerator. Experiment with different vegetables, adding more or less salt, or try keeping it longer. I am now trying this experiment with cauliflower and will report back next week!

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Indian-style cabbage

I have combined some of the steps of this very traditional dish to make it a one-pot dish. It still is as flavorful, but cooking and washing up time is shortened. Don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients!

For ½ head of green cabbage

You will need: 1 tbsp. oil, ½ tbsp each of mustard seeds and cumin seeds, ¼ tsp. turmeric (optional), 1 medium onion or shallot, chopped, 1 cup grated, unsweetened coconut, 2 chilies, minced, 2 garlic cloves, minced, 1 tsp. ginger, minced, and salt to taste.

  • Remove the outer damaged or tired-looking leaves.
  • Cut the cabbage in half, and shred the cabbage with a sharp knife or in a food processor.
  • Wash the shredded cabbage and drain.
  • Heat a wok. Add vegetable oil.
  • Once heated, add the mustard seeds.
  • Once it pops (few seconds), add the cumin seeds.
  • As soon as the cumin sizzles (a few seconds), add the chopped onion and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the minced ginger, garlic, and chilies. Stir-fry for a minute.
  • Add the grated coconut and turmeric. Stir-fry for a few seconds.
  • Add the shredded cabbage. Cover. Reduce the heat to simmer.
  • Cook for five minutes (depending on your preference for a crunch).
  • Salt to taste.

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Kitchen Gadgets

It is always shocking when someone close to you dies at a young age, especially when they are in their twenties. I spent this weekend sad and found myself pottering around in the kitchen: cooking my favorite comfort food, planting chili seeds in a pot by the windowsill, and grinding fresh pepper and steaming vegetables with my improvised kitchen gadgets.

Kitchen shelves are often stacked with tools for every cooking need. However, you can save space and money by using each gadget for multiple purposes. Remember that A. and N., when you are tempted by an aebelskiver maker or electric knife at that well-known kitchen store!

Coffee grinder as mortar and pestle

A coffee grinder can work for both grinding coffee beans and for making fresh pepper or spices. To prevent cardamom-flavored coffee (although this may not be a bad combination!), wipe down the grinder very thoroughly between the different processes. However, if you plan to grind coffee beans daily, it is better to invest in a second grinder just for spices.

Colander as steamer

You don’t have to buy a steamer; you can adapt a colander to work as a steamer. Place the colander over a pot with a lid. (It is typically cheaper to buy a colander that fits over a pot than buying a new pot). Fill the pot with water. Make sure the water comes up to but doesn’t touch the colander. Let the water start to boil, and then arrange the vegetables, clams, or mussels in a single layer on the colander. Cover the colander with the lid. Steam until the vegetables are done to your liking, and the clams or mussels open. If the food isn’t done, do remember to add more water as needed.

Grater as mini food processor

Food processors are expensive and it is worth investing in a good one. However, if you don’t plan to cook a lot, a good metal grater is nice stopgap tool. You can finely grate or slice cheese and vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. Grated garlic and ginger are as good as minced.

Rice Cooker

I still don’t own one. I use the two-finger rule for cooking rice. (Note: I do not mean the rude hand sign!) After you have cleaned and washed the rice, fill the pot with water (a two-finger measure) above the rice. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover with a lid and cook until done. White basmati rice takes about 12-14 minutes to cook and brown basmati rice about 20 minutes. Let the rice sit in the covered pot for 5-10 minutes. While the rice is cooking, you have enough time to prepare accompanying vegetables.

Muffin Pan as taco maker/bacon bowl

I saw this trick on the Food Network. Turn over your muffin pan. Place a soft taco in between the mounds, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. You have a shaped taco to pile on your favorite fillings. By wrapping overlapping slices of bacon around the mound and cooking it for longer, you get a bacon bowl. Clean up was messy, but it was a fun way to eat eggs for Sunday brunch!

Frying Pan or Skillet

The term for flat-bottomed pans are now essentially interchangeable. The difference is that a skillet is shallower and the sides flare outwards to a rounded lip, whereas a frying pan is deeper with sides that come straight up. Both frying pans and skillets are made of cast iron, aluminum, anodized aluminum, or stainless steel. You don’t need both. Buy either, depending on your budget. Just remember to use wooden or plastic tools to avoid scratching non-stick surfaces. Both work well for sautéing, frying, poaching, and warming up leftovers.

Stand-by Recipes

N.’s uncle pointed out that N. isn’t featured in the blog anymore!  It was a reminder to include recipes that are perfect for N. – quick unfussy meals that don’t require a stove (microwave works just fine) or exotic ingredients. If food is to be savored every day, whether it is a humble egg salad or a multi-step meat and vegetable stew, it is good to have a collection of stand-by recipes.

I use the stand-by recipes for any number of reasons: I am tired and don’t want to cook, I have to use up the eggs to make space in my fridge, I have an avocado that has ripened before I made my fancy salad, or I spot a previously frozen salmon filet on sale! Stand-by recipes have no measurements or rules; they simply exist to feed you well. My recent favorite is from my newest, oldest friend who shares her freshly made Gravlax with friends and even transports the frozen cured salmon across the country to her sons.

Gravlax

For a cleaned 1lb salmon filet, you will need about 3 tbsp. salt, 3 tbsp. sugar, fresh pepper, and lots of fresh dill.

  • Combine the salt, pepper and sugar, and while my friend moistens it with vodka to create a paste, you can use water.
  • Smear the fleshy side of salmon with the paste. Cover the entire salmon with dill.
  • Wrap it tightly in saran wrap. Place the salmon in a non-corrosive dish, like a Pyrex glass dish. Place weights (or soup cans) on top of the salmon.
  • Keep the salmon in the fridge for 2-3 days, turning it as often as you remember. Drain any liquid that has accumulated.
  • Remove the salmon from saran wrap and rinse off the dill and paste. It is ready to be eaten.
  • Slice it at an angle as thinly as possible.
  • Serve with toasted bagels or crackers.

Egg Salad

For about 3-4 eggs, you will need about 3 tbsp. of mayonnaise, ¼ tsp. dry yellow mustard powder, celery salt, and salt and pepper to taste.

  • Cook the eggs for 9 minutes in boiling water.
  • Remove shells and mash the eggs in a bowl.
  • Add mayonnaise, pepper, salt, mustard powder, and celery salt (or chopped celery) to the eggs. Mix gently.
  • Serve the egg on an open-faced sandwich or serve as a salad with chopped tomatoes and mixed greens.

Tuna Salad

For a 5-oz. can of tuna, you will need about 2 tbsp. mayonnaise, ¼ tsp. hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.

  • Drain the excess oil from a can of tuna.
  • Mix the tuna with 1-2 scallions (or shallots), mayonnaise, Tabasco (any hot sauce), salt, and pepper.
  • Add chopped tomatoes, and serve as a sandwich or with greens for a quick salad.

Avocado Salsa/Guacamole

For 1 avocado, you will need 1 chopped tomato, 1 chopped green chili (seeded, if preferred), and 1 tbsp. chopped red onion, fresh cilantro, and juice from ½ lemon.

  • Cut the avocado in half. Discard the pit and peel. Chop into bite-size pieces.
  • Add tomato, chili, red onion, cilantro, and lemon juice.
  • Add just enough salt to get the perfect tangy balance of salt-lemon flavor in the salsa.

Note: Overripe avocados do not make a good salsa — instead smoosh the cut side of the avocado on a slice of bread as they do in California delis. Pile on grilled or store-bought peppers and your favorite vegetables for an easy veggie sandwich.