This is the first post of the “no-recipe” recipe collection, a series produced in the pursuit of cataloguing cooking experiments among tips and tricks and jotting down mundane thoughts that drift in and out of my mind at any moment.
I spied an orb, a grossly oversized Brussels sprout, stowed in the back of my fridge a couple of weeks ago. I had no angle then, but I know a star when I see one. Choosing cabbage as the foundation of our first meal together (cheers, guys) is a quiet acknowledgement to an old country sensibility that I have been leaning into as of late. With cabbage, I enter a homely, primitive world. The concrete floors are scuffed and cold but have a sanded-down effect from calloused feet frequently shuffling against it. There are unmade cots and a cauldron perpetually boiling at all hours of the day. A pungent smell emanates from the cauldron filling the one-room cottage. I am grateful for the heat the sweating cabbage provides as I burrow into my cot and devour “Bel Canto” on my Kindle. I share in the family fare, a cabbage stew, with my grandmother, mother, father, brother, his wife, and their two year old infant son, Sambuca.
It’s a little strange how comforting I find this nonsensical, Oliver Twist-esque vignette of a feudal (and futile) existence. One that I enter and depart at my leisure, of course, (bringing along any anachronistic item of my choosing)…but that’s just where the power of cabbage compels me. Cabbage can be both grounding and nourishing. There is just something instinctively satisfying about this densely packed vegetable from a utilitarian perspective. When I see someone making a cabbage-based stew, my unflinching assumption is that person knows a thing or two about surviving a world war.
tip: Cabbage, a non-soluble fiber, has a decent amount of Vitamin C (some sources allege 50% of your DV) as well as a significant source of Vitamin K.
The romanticizing of rationing aside, cabbage also gives one room to experiment with different ingredients in stew form. Although peppery when raw, once that heat seat switch is flipped, cabbage mellows out and goes wherever you take it. It’s a good road trip passenger in that way. In a packed car, cabbage beautifully riffs off of the other vegetables simmering in the backseat. That’s part of the magic of stews, really. They’re transformative in flavor and aroma as you add more ingredients. As a fellow stewardess of stew, I’ve sautéed many different combinations of vegetable in my time, and rarely do the results disappoint. What stews lack in IG aesthetic, they more than make up for in the hearty, satisfyingly savory taste of the dish.
In case you are not familiar with the high-concept lingual tactic I use (the one where I loosen the definitions of words to accommodate my food blog narrative), I define a stew as any sauté that’s gone at least…a little sweaty. It’s still far enough from soup consistency, but there are enough ingredients that either emit a decent amount of water or are water-based in their own right, like the mushrooms and diced tomatoes I included, respectively. To complement the cabbage, I also added yellow bell pepper, red onion, and a leftover zucchini nub (not a Sprout & Spice pairing, but waste nub want nub). Once the vegetables were reasonably cooked, I poured in half a can of diced tomatoes and let that simmer with the vegetables until it seemed properly mixed in & coagulated with the rest of the vegetables.
tip: Be sure to cook the ingredients at least halfway through before adding an acid (e.g., diced tomatoes) into the mix. Adding an acid early in the cooking process keeps the other ingredients from cooking.
For the sake of simple-minded comfort, I kept the number of spices in this dish to a minimum (of four). Often, a cozy, savory taste can be derived from just a light snowing of garlic parsley salt, courtesy of Costco. Dill weed, if you’re fortunate enough to have it stocked, is a cool delight in this dish. If you don’t, toss the memory of that last sentence out the window. You’ve gone this far, and life’s turned out just fine without dill weed. (That being said, consider purchasing in the future especially if you’re into baking potatoes of any kind.)
Turmeric, another non-pair ingredient, is my second pairing transgression. I tend to throw a dash into a lot of different vegetable dishes followed by a light milling of black pepper at the very end of the cooking process because health is wealth. And if you want, put an egg on it, and Presto, Protein™, friends. (That’s going to get a lot of mileage on here.)
tip: Turmeric and black pepper are a black magic DUO. Black pepper increases the absorption of curcumin (compound in turmeric) by up to 2,000 times the normal amount.
So there you have it: The power of cabbage stew to ground you while you’re constantly grappling with the human condition, especially now that your sewing machine has stopped working. When life throws you a scarcity mindset, you can make a magnificent meal out of it, and honestly, it will taste so good, you'll forget what day it is.