Thursday, 1 April 2010

Cabbage (Λάχανο)

A brief break from my travel musings to concentrate on the food of the holy times ahead of us...

The cabbage is generally a misunderstood crop. We had a bumper crop of cabbage this year, but when we tried to give some away, people turned up their noses to it: "We don't eat fart grass," they said to us. Apart from making the usual salad out of it, I cooked it with pork chunks, added it to chili con carne to give the stew more bulk and it was a perfect addition to a stir-fry (cabbage is a good vegetable for sautees). When served with meat, cooked cabbage is a very comforting and hearty addition to a meal.

The combination of pork and cabbage is a popular and tasty one in most parts of Europe, but not well known in Crete. Pork is a mainstay on the Cretan barbecue menu, and most souvlaki is made from pork (the remainder being made with chicken). We roast and grill pork, we combine it with celery, it is a BBQ favorite; although cabbage is grown throughout the rainy months in Crete, it is never combined with pork. The odiferous lahanorizo has been banned from my kitchen (for reasons explained in the link); apart from its use in the surprisingly delightful lahanodolmades, cabbage is always served as a salad and rarely plays a greater role in the Cretan kitchen.

cabbage salad maich brassicae et allium stir fry
Wonderful ways with cabbage; if we grow it, we eat it.
pork and cabbage chili con carne

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The cabbages were some of the hardiest plants of our winter garden, and they were waiting for us when we returned from our trip, giving me a chance to try Choucroute alsacienne, which I read on the menu card at the Chartier, but did not have the opportunity to try it. This dish seems to be one of the mainstays on their menu. If it is that popular, I felt I had to try it, and there is no better way to do so than with our healthy organic garden cabbage heads.

My first attempt at making choucroute; I added a finely cubed potato to the cabbage while it was cooking.

Choucroute is different from the German sauerkraut, although it is based on it. It involves cooking spiced up cabbage in a mixture of wine and vinegar. Cooking a la francais in Crete is an easy task: the raw ingredients are easy to find, but their combination is new to me. Choucroute does not require special ingredients, although juniper berries (which seem to be added quite often in the recipes that I searched out) are not available where I live, so I used pimento (allspice) instead. The basic recipe for choucroute can be adapted according to the kind of wine, vinegar and spices you prefer to use.

choucroute spices
I used bay leaf, pimentos, black mustard seeds and black peppercorns for my first choucroute. Next time, I'll be adding a little mustard to the spices to give it more taste.

Many recipes for choucroute call for ready-made sauerkraut which is spiced up and added to pork cuts. This is not an option in Crete, unless we want to buy some from the German-based supermarket chain LIDL, which often sells pre-made cook-and-heat foreign cuisine, mainly geared for the tourists or foreign residents of the island.

choucroute bakaliaros guacomople
My first choucroute did not use meat juices, since we had it with
as a hot vegetable salad to accompany fried bakaliaros (salt cod) on Greek Independence Day.

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My favorite use of cabbage is as a saute. Here's the recipe I devised myself. Most of the fresh ingredients are locally grown or prepared, which is maybe why it tastes so good.

cabbage saute

You need:
1 small head of cabbage (the scraggly cabbage heads that are in the garden now are large but need a lot of clearing of bad parts)
1 large carrot, peeled
1 large onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of capers (I pick and pickle these every year)
a few tablespoons of olive oil
a few tablespooons of soya sauce
salt and pepper
Slice the cabbage finely, grate the carrot, chop the onion finely and mince the garlic finely. (Too many finely's, but this bit can't be underestimated.) Heat up the oil in a wide shallow pot, and then add the onion and garlic; cook till they become translucent. Keeping the heat high, add the cabbage, carefully stirring the pot regularly, so that the cooked wilted cabbage comes up the top and let's the crunchy cabbage move down the pot. Do this until all the cabbage is added, then added add the carrot and capers, and mix well. Let the cabbage cook away for a few minutes, until it loses its crunchy appearance. Then add the soya sauce, turn down the heat, place a lid on the pot, and simmer for a few minutes, until the cabbage is done to your liking.

food for lent

Sauteed cabbage is a nice alternative to salad, and it goes well as an accompaniment to most meat and fish dishes. We're having it for lent with boiled potatoes and lemon shrimps (pasta and soya mince are also pictured in the above photo).

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