Cabbages are dismissed, or at least overlooked, because they have an exceptional capacity for smelling awful – and they do rot spectacularly. Just drive by a swampy field of unpicked cabbages (shameful food waste that it is) or visit a hospital at supper time. Boiled cabbage offends – before and after you eat it. Sorry, I blame the Brits again. Who else can mess up a veg so well? I know they know better now, but the reputation is made. Be grateful other cultures have done their bit to obliterate this part of Canadian food history (stir fry, cabbage rolls, borscht, or the recipe at the end).
Cabbage is really good for fermenting, a complex process that you expect (even need) to smell bad. Koreans have a special fridge for their kimchi (truly remarkable photos, btw), which use many kinds of cabbage. These fridges ostensibly manage temperature control but I figure it’s to contain the wild smell. I’ve already explained the stink juice that is sauerkraut making.
By contrast, green cabbages fresh out of the fields in the fall with shiny, deep green leaves are slightly sweet. They are also remarkably hard and crisp and juicy. The longer they store – and they do this well, which is why they so ably see us through the winter – the less they are of all of these qualities. If they’ve really sat too long, bitterness sets in.
Go ahead, be British and lightly steam loonie-sized chunks, slather with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. It’s a fast and easy side dish, a comfort food when not cooked to mush. And treated this way, your house won’t smell like a bad old folks home.
Better still, make this recipe for cabbage salad, which is a kind of curtido traditionally served with pupusas (filled masa cakes from El Salvador). In the true spirit of Canadian fusion, I also serve with tacos and pulled pork, both served with their own version of shredded cabbage.
This recipe is not at all authentic, but something I made up based on what I’ve been served with pupusas plus what I thought would taste good.
- 2½ cups green cabbage, finely shredded (not grated)
- ½ cup green onions, diced
- ½ teaspoon of toasted cumin (grinding optional)
- ⅛-¼ teaspoon Mexican oregano
- ½ cup packed cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- few dashes of hot sauce
- bit of sugar (cane sugar if you have)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
Toss the cabbage, scallions, cumin and oregano together.
In a blender or food processor, purée the cilantro leaves with the lime juice. Add hot sauce and sugar to taste.
Stir into the cabbage mixture, mixing well, and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a plate weighted with a couple of cans of beans so the juices from the cabbage release. Stir every so often.
Let sit 6 hours or overnight. Adjust seasonings before serving.