13 December 2010

Red cabbage and Feta are friends, after all

As much as I appreciate Slovakness and Slovak food, there are days when I can't stand the sight of a cabbage soup. There's a part of me that anticipates it as liquid cement, it stays there forever and there's nothing to do but wash it down with beer or Kofola or Vinea, to try to tame the saltiness of it, leaving no space in the stomach for an entree.

But cabbage is the cheapest food at the market, three blocks away, and exactly two blocks closer than any of the supermarkets from my place. (This distance differentiation is important when the weather hits -9 degrees Celsius, or 16 F). And I found a woman who sells beautiful, small veges, I trust her completely because her hands are covered in grime-it's her produce I buy every Saturday. I finally went for a cute red cabbage, mostly because I got tired of buying only onions, leeks and carrots for soup. I figured I'd make rotkohl the way my German omi made it, but today I remembered I don't actually know how to make it without a pressure cooker. So I searched the 101 Cookbooks website, and found something to work with.

Tassajara Warm Red Cabbage Salad

1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
fine grain sea salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 pound head of red cabbage or radicchio, quartered and cut into thin ribbons

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
2 ounces golden raisins (or other plump, chopped dried fruit)
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to garnish

Roast the sunflower seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Sprinkle on the sugar, and a couple pinches of salt. Stir until the sugar melts and coats the seeds (you pan will need to be hot enough). Transfer the seeds immediately to a plate so they don't stick to the pan. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and saute the onion for a minutes or two with a couple pinches of salt. Stir in the garlic, and the cabbage, and a few more pinches of salt. Stir and cook for just a minute or so, or until the cabbage softens up just a touch. Then stir in the rosemary, most of the raisins, and the vinegar. The cabbage will continue to get more and more tender even after you remove it from the heat, so keep that in mind, and do your best to avoid overcooking it - where it collapses entirely. Fold in half of the feta cheese, most of the sunflower seeds, then taste. Season with more salt if needed. Serve garnished with the remaining raisins, feta, sunflower seeds and Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 to 6.

Of course I had to adapt the ingredients and the procedure. My cabbage head was tiny, I only had white onion, no raisins, no sunflower seeds, no balsamic vinegar, no rosemary, no garlic... But went ahead anyway with:

Half a tiny head of red cabbage, chopped into fine ribbons
Raw Pumpkin seeds
White onion, chopped
Two Croatian dried figs stolen from the Potential Christmas Gifts stash, chopped coarsly
A little bit of feta
Ume boshi vinegar (one TBsp)
Pinch of sea salt to taste, at the end.

I skipped the first step, because pumpkin seeds are delicious raw, but followed pretty closely the main step, though I probably overcooked the cabbage by a minute or two, and it did make a difference. So my advice would be: one minute cooking for the cabbage, this is serious.

It came out pretty delicious, and I'd only wished I'd had more feta. I was suprised that the cabbage went so well with feta and the sweet, crunchy figs. It came out with a nice range of colours, and would indeed be lovely next to a slice of quiche or an enchilada. I still have half a cabbage head left, I might do this again for dinner (for two, as a side). I still have time to run to the store to buy more feta, maybe some parmesan and some raisins. It's only 0 degrees C (32 F) out there, completely manageable.