Some day, if you are a fan of farmer’s markets, you will find yourself irresistibly drawn to a cabbage quite literally the size of your head. It may actually be larger than your head. The compacted center beckons from the center of the lush furled outer leaves, and before you know it, you are attempting to wedge it into your bag (which once seemed so voluminous,) hurriedly flinging a few dollars at the person who so carefully grew it.
Then you get it home. You rearrange half of your small refrigerator in an almost vain effort to fit it in. And then reality sinks in. You just bought a cabbage bigger than your head. You are one person. What in god’s name are you going to do with that much cabbage? Coleslaw, while a venerated summer tradition, just doesn’t do it for you. While you do enjoy pickling and preserving things, sauerkraut is really not going to happen in your kitchen.
So now what?
You turn to someone who always knows better when it comes to vegetables. Deborah Madison, your favorite cookbook author. You skim through the four books you have from her and finally land upon a recipe that not only seems appealing, but makes some use of your small attempt at an apartment herb garden. A wilted red cabbage salad with mint, dill, parsley, and goat feta. Sure, you’re missing the lemon part, but you have white wine vinegar, and it appears to be there only for sharpness.
You cut into the massive head of cabbage, the magnificent JT of cruciferous vegetables that is bringing sexy back to this much maligned member of the Brassicaceae family. You really do not like most of the other members, but somehow… the humble cabbage speaks to you. Usually. The oddly random yet mathematical swirls of the vibrant compacted leaves laid bare as you gaze upon the freshly cut vegetable is intriguing, yet you can’t quite be completely in love with the idea of eating it.
The doubt is there. That faint odor you can’t quite place but makes your nose wrinkle wafts up with each sharp slice into the massive beast. Even as you wilt it in a large pan (noticing that clearly an 11” skillet is not big enough and you need an even bigger one,) you are suspicious. Will this become a nasty cooked cabbage nightmare, a thing of 50s dining past that made everyone hate cabbage for decades? You hold steady, keeping faith with the instructions of Ms. Madison. Your eyes flick back and forth between the pan and the clock, timing out the brief tosses of the brilliant purple shreds. You swear softly as you lose a few bits of cabbage to the gap between the stove and the wall. You really do need a bigger skillet to cook a pound of sliced cabbage.
After a few short minutes, it is done. You toss it with fresh herbs, plucked straight from your back deck, and wonder why you don’t use all the herbs five times a day. The lingering scent of mint mixed with dill on your fingertips is heavenly. A dash of vinegar, a generous grind of black pepper, a shower of piquant goat feta, and it is done. Somehow, magically, that off-putting scent has vanished. You spear a generous round of cabbage and somewhat hesitantly taste. You pause. You continue to chew, but more slowly, savoring every heady moment. You are now comforted in the knowledge that you know how you are going to deal with the remaining half of the giant head of cabbage. You are going to make this again. Tomorrow.
Wilted Red Cabbage Salad with Goat Feta
(This is not my recipe. This is from Deborah Madison’s latest work, Vegetable Literacy. I am more than a little in love with her books, ever since I bought my first copy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone 15 years ago. You don’t have to be vegetarian to love her.)
4 cups packed red cabbage, sliced thinly (a scant pound)
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced fine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
juice of one lemon (or, if like me you have no fresh lemon, a generous splash of white wine vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste
goat feta to finish (I honestly don’t know why goat feta as opposed to normal, but I found some and it was deliciously mild.)
In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil until hot. Add onion and sauté for one minute, just until it starts to get soft. Add in the cabbage and garlic, and a generous pinch salt. Cook for about two minutes, tossing all the while. You just want it to get slightly wilted, not completely cooked. Remove from heat and toss into a large bowl. Add in lemon juice (or vinegar) and a generous grinding of black pepper. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as necessary. Add in the fresh herbs, reserving a pinch or two for serving. Toss together. Portion out onto serving dish and sprinkle with crumbled goat feta and the remaining herbs. Be alarmed at how much you suddenly like cabbage.