A bit about the history of cabbage …
Foodtimeline.org, one of my favorite sites, details the history of cabbage as it relates to Celts. Historians believe that cabbage originated in the eastern Mediterranean, but Celts knew of it in ancient times and even influenced the Latin name, Brassica. The Celtic word bresic, means “cabbage”. The French word caboche means “head”.
The Celts probably delivered cabbage to Europe, taking it back from their invasions into Mediterranean lands as early as 600 B.C. The Celts reached the British Isles long before the Romans did, so we’ll credit them with having introduced cabbage into Britain.
The hard heads of cabbage that we know today were common in France in the 13th century and in England in the 14th century. In the mid-1500s, Italy had Savoy cabbage. In 1541, the French explorer Jacques Cartier planted cabbage in Canada, and the first written record of cabbage in the United States dates to 1669.
My attitude about cabbage has changed, but the only way I like coleslaw is on a hot dog! I love cabbage steamed, grilled, sautéed and braised … but I want it to be crisp tender.
Cabbage is common worldwide, but ethnic cultures prepare it differently … and I think that is interesting. I have a French cookbook with recipes for stuffing cabbage with duck or white sausage meat. The sauces vary from a tomato sauce with cream added … to a simple cream sauce. German cookbooks include numerous recipes for sweet and sour style red or green cabbage (and of course there’s kraut). The Scottish and the Irish enjoy mixing their cooked cabbage with mashed potatoes. In the Middle East, cabbage rolls are stuffed with rice, raisins and a wonderful combination of spices and herbs … all topped with a yogurt sauce. Italians braise it with pancetta … Germans braise it with bacon! I have a West African recipe for cabbage stew that includes tomatoes, a habanero pepper, ginger and lots of garlic.
An old hard-headed cabbage … prepared so many different ways! Let’s look at this wonderful cone shaped cabbage, first! Caraflex is the real name, and if you’ve never cooked one you need to try to find one to prepare! They are sweeter than the typical cabbage … and so unique.
My favorite cheese sauce for most vegetables is made with Velveeta. You can find lots of recipes online, but it is very simple. I warm ¼ cup of milk, a pat of butter and about 6 ounces of Velveeta … gently in a saucepan. Whisk it to make it smooth. You can add a little salt, pepper and paprika … but I usually forget to do that.
This next recipe is from the Iberia … the peninsula that is shared by Spain and Portugal. The southern part of Spain is an agricultural area, so there is no mystery that cabbage is a part of the cuisine. I have adjusted a recipe for a cabbage stew, so the cabbage is just crisp tender. This recipe is fast and delicious. It makes a great side dish for grilled meats.
½ head of cabbage
½ sweet onion
A few cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, minced
½ red bell pepper
1 teaspoon dried chili pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 cups of tomato juice
Olive oil for braising
Slice the cabbage into bite-size pieces. Chop the onion and bell pepper. In a couple Tablespoons of olive oil, saute the vegetables until they begin to get tender. Sprinkle the sugar over the vegetables and continue cooking to caramelize. Keep stirring and add all the spices and the tomato juice. Add the tomatoes at this point, so they get hot and burst. Cook the cabbage mixture until most of the juice evaporates, leaving a spicy tomato coating on the vegetables.
This next recipe is for a simple cream sauce to use on steamed cabbage. Cut your cabbage into wedges and steam in (or boil it) until it is tender. Serve it with a white cream sauce that is so easy to make! Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of flour to make a roux. As soon as the flour is absorbed, whisk in 2 cups of whole milk or half and half. Season with salt, lots of black pepper and a few grinds of nutmeg.
When I need coleslaw for my hot dogs, this is the recipe I use! I make it just like my mother made it.
I’m posting this as a part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project. If you’d like to see similar columns, just click my menu tab. I’m also sharing this with a couple blog parties, so click through the parties listed on my sidebar.