If you had asked me a week ago about red cabbage, I would have given you a blank stare, said something about it only being good as a filler in soup, and quickly dismissed the vegetable. Cabbage, to me, is like the packing peanuts of vegetables. If takes up good space in soup, it’s nice in a coleslaw on a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, but beyond that, sort of useless and takes up way too much space in the fridge.
I wouldn’t have even made the connection between red cabbage and those purple vegetable scraps in those Fresh Express bags of salad. But, oh, how things have changed!
Red cabbage has become a new little wonder vegetable to me. Red cabbage turns red depending on the pH of the soil in which it is planted. Its leaves are dark red, almost purple, and it is a good source of Vitamins A, C, and E. It has been linked to lots of health benefits. And what’s more: it’s delicious!
I tried two recipes with my red cabbage this week. The first, a coleslaw to accompay fish tacos, which I made with my girlfriend. She managed to replicate the white sauce often served alongside chips and salsa in some Mexican restaurants, a sauce that reminds her of her favorite Mexican restaurant in San Diego, Rubio’s. While she worked on the sauce, I tackled the coleslaw.
When I think of coleslaw, I usually think of the kind with green cabbage and carrots. It’s usually pretty soupy, almost watery, with a sauce that probably once looked creamy. Coleslaw’s okay. I like it on BBQ because it counters the taste of rich pork and (amorous sigh) Carolina BBQ sauce. This Christmas, my stepdad prepared pulled pork BBQ for Christmas dinner. When I heard this, I asked my mom if coleslaw would be included on the menu. “Of course!” she said. But once I got there, my stepdad told me the whole story, that my mom had decided no one wanted or would eat coleslaw, so they would do without. Until I asked for it. Maybe that makes me a brat who gets what she wants. I prefer to think my mom loves me enough to spring for a little tub of coleslaw for my sandwiches. It’s the story Dennis (my stepdad) told over and over again on Christmas, though, and it’s still a joke between my girlfriend and me.
Anyway. Tacos! Coleslaw! Focus, Dana!
I didn’t want that super runny coleslaw I usually think of. But I also worried about whether red cabbage would match the taste of green cabbage in slaw. Turns out, it does. Beautifully. I consulted a few recipes online and came up with this one for Red Cabbage Coleslaw.
Red Cabbage Coleslaw
1/2 head red cabbage (choose a small-medium head), , bottom core removed, halved again lengthwise, and sliced thin (no sliced should be thicker than 1/4″)
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
Small bunch cilantro (5-10 sprigs), leaves stripped and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Dash ground cumin
Fresh ground salt and black pepper
Zest and juice of one lime
4 tablespoons low fat mayo (healthy!)
2 heaping tablespoons nonfat plain Greek yogurt
Local honey, to taste
1. Toss cabbage, onion, cilantro, and garlic in a bowl.
2. Add salt, pepper, and cumin. Toss to coat.
3. Add mayo, honey, lime juice and zest, and yogurt. Toss to coat, then taste. It’s at this point that this recipe starts to become like guacamole: you adjust flavors until you like what you taste. At this point, I needed more salt, a little squirt more of honey, and a bit more mayo.
4. Keep tossing and adjusting until you are pleased with your creation.
Your coleslaw should taste fresh, flavorful, and not overpowering. You’re looking for the cumin to lend it a little smoky flavor, but you still want a fresh, limey, salty slaw that will carry its weight in the taco.
Let’s talk for a moment about responsible taco occupancy. If you’re going to take up room in the soft, warm tortilla, then you better bring it. You should give me flavor and texture. A warning to bags of shredded lettuce everywhere: Dana’s not impressed. Definitely not after trying this slaw on our fish tacos! This slaw was crispy, definitely not runny, and brought some really good flavor to the taco.
I’m not going to list a whole recipe for fish tacos now because while the slaw was fantastic and Amanda’s replication of Rubio’s sauce was impressive and delicious, we were less than thrilled with the fish, which was not a responsible occupant of the taco. It was light, but didn’t pack much flavor. Next time, we have plans to marinate the fish, then bread it and fry it up. I’ll report back with results.
Molly Wizenberg’s Red Cabbage Salad
Last week, I finished reading Molly Wizenberg’s lovely memoir, A Homemade Life. In it, she recounts her time dating her (soon-to-be) husband and their discovery of cooking and eating together. At one point, he suggests red cabbage to her, and Molly has what I think of as the typical red cabbage reaction: repulsion, followed by disbelief, followed by a questioning of the relationship.
But being an adventurous eater, she tried it. And it was lovely. Lovely enough for me to modify the recipe and try it out myself.
Red Cabbage Salad
1/2 head of red cabbage, halved again (lengthwise), and sliced thin (again, no slice thicker than 1/4″)
Handful of quartered grape tomatoes (more or less, depending on taste)
Sliced cucumber (to taste)
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano
1 clove garlic
Small handful toasted sunflower kernels
Fresh ground black pepper
1. Put cabbage, tomatoes, and cucumber in bowl and mix lightly. Set aside.
2. Combine rest of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you get a dressing roughly the consistency of a very thick Caesar dressing. It will likely not be smooth; that’s fine.
3. Add dressing to cabbage mixture and toss to coat. Adjust cheese, oil, lemon, and/or salt and pepper to your liking.
This recipe was a game-changer for me. Not only was it fresh and delicious, but it also completely vegetarian, and I was okay with that. I had to add cucumber and tomato (Molly’s recipe only called for cabbage) because eating a bowl of cabbage by itself makes me feel sad and anorexic, like I’m eating a bowl of grass clippings with black pepper and all my insecurity mixed in. But this salad with cucumber and tomato was lovely and vibrantly colorful. The dressing is light, cheesy, and definitely leaves you smelling like, well, cheese. And garlic. The recipe is filling, hearty, and would make a great side dish to any light dinner.
So there we have it. Red cabbage. No longer a useless purple scrap vegetable.