Friday, July 13, 2012

The Glory of Grilled Cabbage

Napa cabbage from the garden, on the grill.
One of the best things about learning how to cook is realizing that there are very few bad foods -- just bad ways of preparing them. For instance, when I was a kid growing up in West Texas, one of the vegetables I hated most was cabbage. My mom would boil the bejeesus out of it, and I guess I must like the taste of bejeesus, because when it was done (actually, long before it was done) the cabbage was all slimy and, worse, all stinky, and I couldn't go near the stuff. She would make stuffed cabbage leaves from time to time, and since I loved the filling and the sauce, I would beg her to make stuffed peppers instead.

These days, cabbage -- and its brassica relatives Brussels sprouts (what I call single-person's cabbage), broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi -- are among my absolutely favorites. But that's because I don't cook them the way my mother did in, in her Midwestern, pressure-cooker-loving ways. Pressure cook broccoli? Yes, that's what I said.

Cabbage gets a workout during grilling season, usually as slaw, and I have my own ways of preparing that, too. Rather than letting it get all watery once the dressing its on, I like to salt it, let it sit, then squeeze the extra water out before tossing it with dressing and other ingredients. It's a technique I learned from Anthony Rosenfeld and his vinegar-based Montreal-style slaw, and I've used it ever since.

But it wasn't until I was developing recipes for the Post's pre-Memorial Day grilling spread that I thought about putting cabbage right over a fire. I had seen a recipe in Martha Stewart Living for roasted cabbage wedges, and it got me to thinking: What about grilling them? It was a revelation, really. I cut them into thick steaks, leaving the core intact, tossed them with olive oil and salt, and threw them onto the grate of my little Aussie Walk-About grill. They went quickly. I pulled off leaves with my tongs when they started getting too black, turned them a couple of times, and done. Grilling brings out the sweetness and the nuttiness of the vegetable, adding a little smoke in the process. 

And the texture! With some pieces charred, some still crisp, and some tender, this would be a one-dish wonder once I chopped them up and added a little more salt to taste, maybe some vinegar and a little more (or different) oil.

I couldn't quite stop there, though. I thought the slices would take well to an Asian-style slaw, but I wanted to make it a meal rather than a side dish, so I cooked up some udon noodles and combined them with the cabbage, scallions, carrots, and more, to serve just moi. I reprised it a couple of months later for a July Fourth pot luck, using gorgeous Napa cabbage from the garden here on the Maine homestead.

Along with kimchi and a simple slaw, it's become my new favorite way to turn a mountain of cabbage into the makings of a meal. With apologies to Mom, it's neither stinky nor slimy. Thank goodness.

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.
Grilled Cabbage

Besides adding smoke flavor, grilling cabbage brings out the vegetable's natural sweetness. The result makes for an easy accompaniment to grilled meats, particularly pork. Or it can be the basis for a twist on your favorite coleslaw recipe. This will go easier if you have a grill basket, but it’s doable without it. Use 1 cup for a single serving of the Grilled Cabbage and Udon Slaw, below. The cabbage can be grilled, cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes about 6 cups

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to prepare the grill basket
1 medium green or red cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees) and add soaked wood chips in a foil packet or in a smoker box. If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them under the cooking area for direct heat. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 or 5 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames.

Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.

Cut the cabbage in half. Cut each half into 1-inch-thick slabs, leaving the core intact. Brush both sides of each slab with the oil and sprinkle generously with salt.

Using a grill basket if you have one, grill the cabbage slabs until they are charred in spots on the outside and starting to wilt (but are not soft) on the inside, about 5 to 10 minutes per side. (If some of the leaves come loose and start to burn, use tongs to pull them off and transfer them to a plate while you cook the remaining cabbage.)

Transfer the cooked slabs to a cutting board; cut out and discard the core. Cut the grilled leaves into thin slices.

If serving as a side dish, season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Smoky Cabbage
and Udon Slaw

This is the antithesis of the watery summer slaw: a bowl-in-one warm-weather meal that gives an Asian treatment to the smoky-sweetness of Grilled Cabbage (above). If you'd rather have it as a side dish, leave out the tempeh. Omnivores, feel free to sub in grilled chicken, shrimp or pork chunks.

1 serving

2 ounces udon noodles
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 ounces tempeh, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 1/2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce, plus more to taste
1 cup Grilled Cabbage (see above)
1/4 cup mixed salad greens, chopped
1 scallion, white and green parts, thinly sliced crosswise
1 small carrot, shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler
2 teaspoons rice vinegar, preferably unseasoned
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

Cook the udon noodles according to the package directions, drain, and toss in a medium bowl with the sesame oil.

Pour the vegetable oil into a medium skillet over medium-high heat; when the oil starts to shimmer, add the tempeh slices and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Turn off the heat, pour in the soy sauce, and toss to glaze the tempeh. Transfer to a plate to cool, and chop into bite-size pieces.

Add the Grilled Cabbage, salad greens, scallion and carrot to the udon noodles, sprinkle the vinegar over, and toss to combine. Taste, and add soy sauce if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the cilantro leaves and peanuts, if using, and eat.

1 comment:

  1. Grilled cabbage slaw? This is genius and I will have to try it. And "single-person's cabbage," well, I'll have to borrow that one.