Cabbage with juniper berries

I’ve always liked cabbage–slaw, steamed, and even boiled if it was not cooked to mush. I’ll even just nuke a wedge with a little olive oil and salt sprinkled over it and call it a vegetable dish. It’s a good keeper that doesn’t get foul if it stays in the crisper for a while–especially if you just peel off the leaves from the outside of the head as you need them, instead of cutting the head in pieces.

Cover of book

Nigel Slater’s “Tender”

I’ve read a lot of Nigel Slater lately (Kitchen Diaries, Ripe, and Tender). I like his style: very descriptive of the garden, and the kitchen–almost makes me feel that I’m right there with him. I’m anticipating the followup volumes for Tender and Kitchen Diaries; his website is also well worth checking out.

Tender is a vegetable cookbook (as well as a gardening book)–not a vegetarian cookbook, though most recipes could be pretty easily adapted if you’re of the vegetarian persuasion.  The discussion of each vegetable includes cooking as well as growing information, and most delightfully, a discussion of seasonings for the vegetable.

His recipes are simple, designed to make the most of excellent fruits and vegetables without being at all fussy.  Quantities are rather loosely given, which makes it ideal for my improvisational style of cooking for myself (and the cat). I’ve found all sorts of thing I want to try, but here is one that particularly caught my fancy–perhaps because it’s fall, or maybe just because I had a head of cabbage in the crisper.

One of the seasoning he mentioned for cabbage was juniper berries. I’ve used juniper berries for other dishes, but can’t honestly say that I’d ever thought of trying them with cabbage.  Here’s what I did to try this out.

Cabbage with juniper berries

Ingredients

  • About 6 leaves from a medium head of cabbage
  • 3 juniper berries
  • dash of red pepper flakes if desired for spice
  • dash of salt to taste
  • small pat of butter

Preparation

  • Flatten the leaves on a cutting board and cut into bite-size pieces
  • Add crushed juniper berries, (see note below.), chili flakes if desired, and salt.
  • Toss the cabbage to distribute seasonings.
  • Add butter and 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Cover and microwave for about 4 to 6 minutes, until cabbage is still bright green, but tender (See NOTE).
  • Serve.

Cook’s notes

  • Though I used white cabbage, I’m sure this would be fine with red or savoy cabbage as well.
  • The juniper berries are very oily, so I did not put them in my spice grinder–I used a mortar and pestle that could be cleaned easily.
  • The microwave really seems to bring out the heat in the chili peppers, so add less than you might were you just going to sauté the cabbage.
  • The amount of water needed will depend on whether the cabbage is just washed and still wet, and/or how tight the cover is. I don’t usually use plastic wrap, but Pyrex bowls with vented covers, so I do lose some steam.
  • Sauté or steam-sauté would work as well–I just didn’t want to wash another pan when I was preparing this after a day of indexing work.

I’ve tried it now–right up there with caraway seeds.The combination is a winner–I’m not sure I can easily describe what the juniper berries do for the cabbage, but it certainly puts it in a different class from “boiled” cabbage that I grew up with and what is typical of “southern” cooking. I think it adds background earthiness and complexity to the flavor. It was no longer “just” cabbage!

It was a side for roast turkey thighs, but I can easily see this as a great side for pork, or most particularly for duck legs or duck confit.  I’ll certainly make it again–probably on many occasions.

I didn’t use extra virgin olive as I normally might with cabbage because I just could not get the flavors of that and the juniper berries together in my head. (Cabbage with a little extra virgin olive oil is excellent, though.) If I were making this to go with duck, I make it with duck fat instead of butter.

bowl of cooked cabbage

cabbage with juniper berries

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These links are to The Regulator Bookshop, my local, independent bookstore. I like to use them whenever possible–though I do sometimes go to Amazon.com. I have no connection with The Regulator Bookshop, such as an affiliate status–I just support local independent business when I can.  They are very efficient in processing orders, even if the book you want is not in stock.

$36.00

ISBN-13: 9781607740377
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Published: Ten Speed Press, 4/2011

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Published: Studio, 11/2012

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ISBN-13: 9781607743323
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Published: Ten Speed Press, 4/2012

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ISBN-13: 9780007256037
Availability: Special Order – Subject to Availability
Published: Fourth Estate, 9/2012

Food for body, and for the spirit.

cover of the kitchen diariesI’ve had an indolent–well, honestly let’s say lazy, slothful, shiftless, do-nothing morning.  This entails sitting on my deck watching the Brown-headed Nuthatches,  Downy Woodpeckers, and Carolina Chickadees (all fledglings in various stages of do-it-yourself development) with parents occasionally feeding them while they flit about and practice eating and perching. (I’m taking lessons from Frankie, the cat, on relaxation.)Between hefting the binoculars and sipping café au lait, I’ve been perusing Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries.

If you like to eat good food, this is a book that you should at least check out of the library and read.  After reading one of his other books, I bought it (hard copy, not Kindle).  I suspect that it’s a book that will never make it onto the bookcase shelf–rather it will wander from living room, to bedside table, to kitchen table, to the office, and back again, to be picked up and read for any number of reasons–fun and inspiration included. In just a brief perusal, it’s gone to very close to the top of my favorite food books, right up there with M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating and Roy Andries de Groot’s In Search of the Perfect Meal (contents selected by Lorna J. Sass).

This is food for the spirit,  the kind of recipes that lead to improvisation–no long lists of ingredients, no really complicated techniques; just a remarkable reverence for excellent quality seasonal ingredients–be it fruit, vegetable, or animal, prepared with a love of good food and appreciation of nature.  It is imbued with a sense of appreciation for food–not all of it actually cooked for a sit-down meal.  The author recognizes something that all of us who cook and put “leftovers” in the refrigerator do–grazing–with  the same appreciation, given the appropriate circumstances, for food, even when grazing.

Nigel Slater has a wonderful writing style–easy to read, but full of food for thought with a great turn of phase (British to the Nth degree).  Recipe instructions are clear, and concise; grazing and casual creations are often to be found “buried” in a paragraph, which makes a delightful discovery as you read–a bit like a treasure hunt! (There is an index as well where you can find recipes, or just read through to see what’s available–I know, I do have a “thing” about indexes–I sometimes actually read them!).

Don’t misunderstand, the recipes here are not what you’re likely to find in Gourmet or Bon Appetite.  This is food that isn’t architecture, and doesn’t look as if it’s “too good to eat”. It’s not a creation, or restaurant food–it’s comfort for both the body and for the soul.