Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cabbage with Almonds, Capers and Raisins

It is officially winter out with temperatures below freezing and even in the teens at night. On Wednesday I walked to school with 2 boys who insist on wearing there sledding goggles every day along with face covering hats. They and their friends happily threw snow at each other, rolled in it, kicked it, and occasionally walked forward. When I collected Sebastian off the bus he and Julian and 2 other neighborhood children broke out into a spontaneous gleeful snow ball fight. One little girl chose to stand next to me and eat fists full of fresh snow while her sister and the other children ran around flinging snow at each other. I stood there on the street happily watching them, thankful that I had put on my snow pants so they could play and I would not freeze into a pillar of ice. Lia, the snow eater, ended up shivering and cold.

A return to winter also means a return to my CSA having storage vegetables instead of a bounty of freshly grown produce. If you are new to visiting my blog, then you have not yet heard of the cabbage that is part of my biweekly winter vegetable share and its test to my creativity. Cabbage is one of the many vegetables that people largely left behind when refrigeration and global food production took hold. It still has a place on peoples plates but mostly as coleslaw and sauerkraut, as well as an appearance on St Patty's Day.

Personally I don't really like coleslaw and especially not when the outside temperature is below freezing. So the trick is to come up with uses for the 8 cabbages I receive over the winter that are inventive and delicious. Every winter I get better, figuring out another trick that makes me look forward to cooking with and eating my cabbage share. Yesterday I added a recipe that moves cabbage more firmly into the category of vegetables I love.

It began when I found a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers and Raisins. Part of being successful with my CSA is not to run out and buy every vegetable I see a tempting recipe for, but instead cook with what I have. Therefore I could either wait until March, and the end of the winter CSA, or find a substitution from what I have. As I read and reread the recipe, lusting after the flavors, I began to imagine it with cabbage instead of cauliflower, as they have a similar flavor profile.

When I went to make it I decided to also use some kohlrabi, not because I thought the dish needed it, but because the cabbage I had was so small. I also had to modify the cooking technique as the one time I tried to roast cabbage I found it brought out some of the more off putting flavors of cabbage rather then caramelizing and sweetening it. I also used more topping, just because it sounded so good. The original recipe calls for fresh parsley, tarragon and chives. I substituted fresh cilantro as I will have less trouble using the leftovers and I knew the flavor would work well with the other ingredients.

The end result was an epiphany of what cabbage can be. The cabbage was browned and caramelized in spots with a flavor very similar to cauliflower, only subtler. Then there was the counterpoint to the cabbage and balance from the other flavors, sweetness from the raisins, a mild acidity from the vinegar, sharpness from the capers, earthiness from the almonds and the crunch and richness from the bread crumbs. The cabbage also had a very fresh taste in this dish, which is really wonderful for a vegetable that was harvested at least 2 months ago.

Cabbage with Almonds, Capers and Raisins
1 small cabbage, cut into fourths, cored and then sliced finely yielding approximately 4 cups
1 largeish kohlrabi peeled and then sliced into long matchsticks (optional, although add more cabbage if not using) yielding about 2 cups
3 Tbsp unsalted butter (divided use)
8 Tbsp fresh soft bread crumbs (to make them just take some bread and whiz it in a food processor, any extra can be frozen for future use. Contrary to popular food wisdom I often make bread crumbs from the heel of the bread, the brownness just adds to the flavor)
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
6 Tbsp whole roasted unsalted almonds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 Tbsp golden raisins (feel free to sub dried sour cherries or cranberries if you don't like raisins, or even apricots)
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar (I used my favorite sherry vinegar but I think the white wine vinegar would have been just as good and less expensive)
2 Tbsp capers (salt preserved capers are preferable, if using soak in warm water for 30 minutes and then drain. Brine preserved ones only need to be rinsed and drained)
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro

Heat a large skillet over low heat and add 2 Tbsp butter (my skillet is 13 inches in diameter). When the butter is melted add bread crumbs and cook while stirring until toasted and fragrant, approximately 3 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out or clean and dry skillet.

Place skillet over medium heat and add 2 tsp olive oil. Add almonds and sauté until lightly toasted and fragrant (although this may be a little hard to judge as the almonds are brown to start with. It should take about 2 to 3 minutes). Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, using a light touch. Transfer almonds to a plate or cutting board and when cooled chop each one into 3 or so pieces (the original recipe that Deb from Smitten Kitchen was following specified cutting them into thirds which she found laughable until she tried it. Turns out when you chop almonds thirds is the most reasonable way).

Wipe out or clean and dry skillet and add remaining 1 Tbsp oil, heat the oil over high heat and add the cabbage and kohlrabi if using. Cook the vegetables over high heat, stirring occasionally until browned in spots and tender. (At this point my guess is this took 15 or so minutes, next time I promise to pay attention). While cooking the cabbage and kohlrabi melt remaining 1 Tbsp butter over low heat in a small saucepan, when melted add the raisins (or other dried fruit) vinegar and 2 Tbsp water. Simmer until raisins are plump and soft, drain and set aside.

In a small bowl combine almonds, capers, raisins and cilantro. Season well with pepper and set aside (as my capers where salt preserved I did not add any salt, if yours are brine preserved add salt to taste). Toss so everything is well mixed.

Place cabbage and Kohlrabi on a serving platter or casserole dish and spoon almond, caper herb blend over the top and then sprinkle with the bread crumbs before serving.

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