A cabbage is not one to command an audience. Sure, it may tart things up a bit now and again, boasting some frilled leaves or turning scarlet for a spell, but that is the end of its attempts at razzle dazzle. Instead, it is a head down, hard working sort, like most cruciferous vegetables, happy to sit, unassuming and staid, waiting for your attention.
Growing up, I took cabbage for granted. We ate it either in the Indian fashion, sliced thinly and sautéed, punctuated by spice and dyed golden with turmeric, or it was presented as coleslaw - that ubiquitous backyard barbeque attendee, often overly sauced and unnaturally green.
It was only some time in the last few years that I began to appreciate cabbage. While I had liked it just fine, I cannot say I had previously been one to ardently seek out the brassica's company.
Maybe I have mellowed or maybe I have learned to look for quality, but just like how the flashy boy in highschool would not garner a glance from me these days, cabbage with its homely appeal, is now what catches my eye. Pickled, roasted, boiled and braised, I adore it it in all its ways.
Shredded fashionably thin, cabbage loses its burly quality; in a warm pan its broad shoulders slouch and soften, relaxing. Its curls become mussed, and once the succulent strands are tangled with sweet onion and apple, napped with bacony, vinegar-tinged juices and freckled with black specks of mustard seed, its subtle charms are fully realized.
Sautéed cabbage is far from new, and some might not consider it the most exciting of dishes. But, dear reader, in these flannel blanket days of February, I do not want the sharp, clean edges of the new. I want full, rounded flavours that comfort, not challenge. This is a dish with boy-next-door appeal; seemingly plain, but once you get to know it, you will be won over.
Sautéed Savoy cabbage with apples
Although deeply-flavoured, this dish plays well with others; it can be served alongside all manner of roasts, or as here, with some grilled sweet garlic sausage.
2 rashers of thick cut bacon, cut into horizontal strips
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large onion, halved and sliced thinly
2 small apples, halved and sliced thinly (I like Galas)
apple cider vinegar
1 medium savoy cabbage, cored and sliced thinly
1/3 cup water
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Leaving the rendered fat in the pan, remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined dish to cool and drain. Set aside.
Still over medium heat, fry the mustard seeds and cumin until the seeds begin to pop and the cumin is aromatic. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the apples, and cook for about 2 minutes; the apples should have picked up some colour.
Splash in a good bit of vinegar to deglaze, about 2-3 tablespoons, scraping up any bits of food that may be stuck to the pan. Tumble in the cabbage, tossing it to coat with the onions, apples and collected juices. Add the water, continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, and the cabbage is wilted and just tender. Sprinkle in the reserved bacon, tossing to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.