Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Cabbage is a terribly misunderstood vegetable.  Most people know it as cole slaw, with its gobbets of mayonnaise, which is yet another polarizing food.  Saurkraut is its other common incarnation, and while I like saurkraut, it's easy to understand why most people don't (this is not the pregnancy speaking--I really do like saurkraut).  But cabbage salad that's not cole slaw?

Salting is a technique similar to brining, in the sense that both involve steeping something (meat or vegetable) in massive quantities of salt.  With meat, you use a salt-and-water (or whiskey) solution.  With vegetables, you just toss lots of chopped vegetables with a tablespoonful or two of salt and wait.  In both cases, osmosis draws water out from the food, and you end up with a very tender and, depending on how thoroughly you rinse off the salt, slightly salty food.  For vegetables, you get a tender-yet-still-crunchy effect.

It is this tender-yet-still-crunchy texture that makes this too-simple-to-screw-up salad so good that it beats the pants out of any cole slaw out there (sorry, Jeroen Meus).  You take a bit of cabbage, and chop it up fine--you could shred it, but I find that chopping is the best way to preserve the texture of the more delicate leaves.  Assemble it, layer by layer, in a bowl, with a sprinkling of salt in between layers.  Let it sit in the fridge for about an hour.  Rinse off the salt (this may take 2-3 rinsings), and let the cabbage drain.  Dress it with a bit of olive oil, a dash of vinegar if you want.  Done.  Light, crunchy, mild, and not "cabbage-y" (that sickeningly-sweet taste of a too-thick rib--the salt probably does something with that compound that makes that flavor).  Perfect.

Of course there are a thousand other things you could put into this salad if you so choose:  radishes, carrots, sweet onions, fennel, and daikon (if you can get it) all pickle nicely, and if a bowl of plain cabbage sounds a bit too, well, plain to you, by all means play around.  I hear raisins go quite nicely with a cabbage salad, and Karel is inexplicably partial shallots.  For myself, though, I like it simple.  Cabbage has enough diversity in its layers and parts that I don't see much need to fix what ain't broke.  

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