Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cabbage: A Sweet & Sour Saute

Mention the word "cabbage" and it will not be greeted with enthusiasm or excitement. There's nothing glamorous about this humble vegetable which is descended from the wild mustard plant and has its origins in the Mediterranean region. Cabbage and its other brassica oleracea relatives have been cultivated for over four thousand years and are an important food staple for millions of people around the world.

A notably prolific crop, cabbage yields more pounds per acre than almost any other vegetable; China, India, Russia, Ukraine, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. are among the countries which grow thousands of tons annually. In many northern regions, pickled and preserved cabbage have provided crucial calories and nutrients, including generous amounts of vitamin C, during long cold winters when little fresh produce was available. Ethnic food has been greatly enriched by the use of cabbage dishes such as kim chi, sauerkraut, coleslaw and borscht.

This recipe was inspired by the stuffed cabbage, sweet and sour meatballs, cabbage strudel and other delicacies I recall from childhood. Simple to make yet delicious and satisfying, this dish pairs well with a bowl of brown rice, millet or kasha or perhaps with a piece of baked or steamed winter squash. If you're making potato latkes this week, this bright green slightly crunchy cabbage is the perfect accompaniment.

2 tablespoons olive oil (more if needed)
2 cups leek or onion, thinly sliced
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced (optional)
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 medium green cabbage, finely shredded
2/3 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 - 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2/3 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon good quality Hungarian paprika (optional)

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and saute leek, jalapeno and garlic until fragrant and golden. Add cabbage and stir a bit, adding a little more olive oil if necessary. Stir in raisins and continue cooking on a medium flame; within two or three minutes, the cabbage will begin to wilt and reduce in volume. Add maple syrup, vinegar and sea salt and continue cooking for another three to five minutes until cabbage is wilted but still green and somewhat crunchy. Remove from heat; taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately with a little dusting of paprika.