Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Cabbage Waltz

This is my first of three years in Cleveland, and I'm learning a lot about the lay of the land from one fellow MFA fiction-writer in particular, Megan. 
The first bit of advice: invest in snow boots. People never shovel sidewalks in Cleveland. 
Second bit of advice: join Cityfresh. It's a local food co-op type deal where if you pay the weekly fee, they give you a portion of their harvest for each given week. 

Of course, Cityfresh only has a weekly harvest in the summer. For the winter, however, they do one large Christmas share, one I partook in and collected in mid-December. The pick-up location was an old church called Trinity that stands sentinel right across the street from Cleveland State University's Main Classroom Building. The whole family came along, and my son Garet was rather enthralled with a particular water feature where the water cascades down the entire length of a wall like a waterfall. Down a hallway to the left, I found the vegetables. 

My share: 5 apples, 1 giant head of cabbage, 1 bag of onions, 1 bag of yams, 1 bunch kale, 1 bag of carrots, and 2 squash. I chose a spaghetti and a butternut. Now, I could think of uses for each and every bit of produce I carted home in a medium-sized box I usually reserve for Aldi groceries. Everything, that is, except the cabbage.

I've never been a cabbage person. Bok Choy is tasty in stir fries and Red Cabbage is good in a nice salad mix. I even gave Brussel Sprouts the ole college try a few months ago and pronounced them edible in moderation. But I'm not talking about that sort of cabbage. I'm talking green cabbage. I'm talking the sort of cabbage that smells like molding socks when it cooks and coats the air with its offending odor.

The mere presence of that massive mound of cabbage on my kitchen counter sent me into a wave of panic. I got visions of summers past when, every year without fail, my cabbage-loving Grandfather insisted the whole family feast upon hobo dinner for his birthday celebration. A hobo dinner is a boiled dinner cooked all together in a large metal barrel over an open fire. Usually, it includes sausage and potatoes and corn-on-the-cob and, of course, cabbage. Except, because everything was boiled together, none of it tasted like itself or even a combination of what was in there, like what happens in a stew. Instead, from the sausage to the corn, all the food came out of that cauldron smelling and tasting of over-boiled cabbage. Perhaps the Irish would have celebrated in their bountiful, delicious feast. I just thought it tasted a lot like the kitchen garbage bag smells right before dad takes it out to the trash can.

No, I never had learned to appreciate the old school version of cabbage. Likewise, Art only eats the stuff when it's cole slaw, and Garet still announces "I don't like vegetables" when anything green gets placed in from of him. Come to think of it, he also doesn't like fruit, beans, jelly, or any meat presented to him between to pieces of bread.

What to do with a cabbage head the shape and size of a regulation soccer ball? For a solution, I, as a woman of the technology age, turned to the interweb. I ran a google search for cabbage recipes. What I eventually stumbled upon was a South Korean (though it's Korean origin is questionable) veggie burger, or as the website stated "a light cole slaw fried egg sandwich,"  called a Toasti. I figured it was worth a try.

What you need: 1/2 c. shredded cabbage
1/2 c. shredded carrot
1 egg
1/2 tsp. soy sauce
between 1-2 T butter
2 slices of wheat bread, toasted

1. Mix cabbage and carrot in a bowl. Then, stir in egg and soy sauce, mix, and patty. It won't form a perfect patty in the bowl but get it close.

2. Heat butter in a skillet of med. heat. Dump patty onto skillet and form with spatula. Cook for 3 min. on both sides, adding a slice of cheese for the last minute if you are a fan of the cheeseburger. Add condiments to bread (I like a mix of ketchup, mustard, and BBQ sauce). Then plop the patty onto the bread and eat while hot.

The instant the ingredients hit that butter-soaked pan, I knew this would be no ordinary cabbage recipe. It didn't smell like cabbage. Instead, it gave of a vaguely sweet scent, part carrot, part scrabbled egg, part soy. As it sizzled in the pan, my carnivorous boyfriend wandered into the kitchen to ask me what smelled so good. The "patty," once nudged into place with the spatula, stayed in it's rounded burger shape with only the egg acting unruly in its usual tendency to pool outward as it solidifies. The entire package made for a pretty picture, the bright orange of the carrot, the yellow of the egg, the traces of brown soy, the flecks here and there of light green from the cabbage.

The flip after the first three minutes was particularly satisfying. It was much easier to accomplish than your run-of-the-mill fried egg, which I always manage to shred at the flip. It flipped like a burger with an angry hiss in the butter. It's sputter fading back to a constant sizzle. The top portion was now delicate brown with blackened tips, probably seconds away from over-cooked, that's how the Toasti turns out best. I added my cheese and slathered on my condiments. I am a sucker for ketchup in mass quantities. By the time my Toasti was good and browned on both sizes, I had a tomato ready for the top. And I was ready for the taste test.

The first bite I made sure was taken from a spot free of all the excess burger trappings, so I could just get a taste of the Toasti itself. It tastes like something unique, not all the things within it combined, but something that transcends all of them. It was sweet with a hint of salty and a background of egg richness. There was also a quiet, easily missed, taste of greenery. It was less of a cabbage as the Irish know it well cabbage and more like its subtler Asian cousins. 

The second bite was the huge veggie burger package. Let me say, in my own days of meat-eating, I ate many-a hamburger, but I really didn't enjoy the taste of the burger itself. I just over-slathered it in condiments, so all I tasted was the ketchup mixed with tomato, that fake tomato plus real tomato flavor combination that just works. I do the same with a Boca burger or a Morning Star, but this new Toasti veggie burger was a delight from every facet. More flavorful, more complex, sweeter, but with the same ability to supply me with much-needed protein. I don't need ketchup for these babies, but they are also a treat with a little squeeze of tomato. 

After a week of Toasti for dinner, I can still honestly say, I could have another. I no larger fear the cabbage in my ice box. More to the point, I can now have as many veggie burgers as my little heart yearns for, and with cabbage heads and carrots so cheap per pound at the market, I can eat them at a fraction of the cost but for five times the flavor. Oh, cabbage, I will never doubt you again.


  1. Sounds like a great idea! And if you get sick of patties, try noodles with cabbage, either in an Eastern European or an Asian variety (lots of recipes online). Even if they suggest to use napa or savoy cabbage, you can always substitute standard white.

    I particularly like it with sugar and vinegar along for the ride (in either ethnic version) to bring out tang and add a touch of sweetness. The only problem is color with this dish, so add in some carrots slivers or red pepper slices or use red onions and parsley (in the Eastern European variety) or cilantro.

    This has become a favorite at our house, since we discovered it last fall.

  2. That sounds like something worth trying. I'm not sure I'll ever get sick of the patties per se, but perhaps a variation could come in handy. (And maybe my icky six year old would be willing to try the soupy noodle version, since it should look a bit like his much-loved chicken noodle.)