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.

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Braised pork and cabbage (Caribbean seasoning)

I’m of the opinion that cabbage is a much under-appreciated vegetable!  It’s good for so many things besides the traditional “coleslaw”.  One of my favorite things is to use it in braises.  Here is one of my favorites:  Braised pork and cabbage.  Again, it’s versatile, freezer-friendly, and the quantities are flexible.

Heads of savoy cabbage

Savoy cabbage

A particular favorite is from Jacques Pepin’s Cuisine Economique.  I’ll give you the basic recipe here ingredients as given in that recipe and summary of the preparation.  If you’re interested in ways to take economical cuts of meat and make them into something really good, this is a book worth looking at (See Bibliography).  The recipe is here not to give you quantities, but to suggest seasoning.  While this recipe suggests a larger cut of pork, I usually get the boneless country ribs to use for this–they are really more like pork butt than are loin chops.

Braised Pork and Cabbage (p. 247)

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • a 4-pound pork roast (loin tip, shoulder, or pork butt)
  • 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium-size heads Savoy cabbage (about 2-1/2 pounds), leaves cut into 2-inch pieces and core cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large onions (about 1 pound), peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
packaged pork boston butt

boston butt shoulder roast

Preparation

  • Mix the salt, oregano, cumin, allspice, cayenne, and rub the mixture all over the meat.  (See Notes.)
  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.  When hot, brown the meat over medium-to-high heat for about 30 minutes (See Notes) until well browned on all sides.
  • Cover tightly and place in a preheated 325 ° F oven and cook for 45 minutes to a hour.
  • Remove the meat and transfer to a platter.
  • Combine the cabbage, onions, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce in the pot.
  • Put the meat on top of the cabbage, cover, and return to the oven for about 2 hours until the roast has released juice and is fork tender.
  • Slice the meat and serve with the cabbage and juices from the pot.

Notes:

  • The cooking times will vary to some degree with the type of meat you use–shoulder, butt and ribs have enough fat and connective tissues to need long slow cooking. A supermarket loin roast, which I would not use, can easily become dry with long cooking unless brined.   I do not usually make this with a roast, but with big, meaty,  country-style spare-ribs, with about  1 to 1-1/2 pounds.  Even using about a quarter of the meat, your cooking time will still be longer than a quarter of these times–you just need to check the doneness)

    country ribs

    butt country ribs

  • You’ll probably want to use the quantities given for the rub ingredients–and I like to put these on the meat for at least several hours (if not a day before) browning it.  There is a lot of surface area to cover with the ribs.
  • This is also a freezer-friendly dish–I love to have a single-serving sized portion to pull out when I need comfort food on a cold day or I’m just in a hurry for food.
  • I like to serve steamed potatoes with it–or add one of those single servings to a  single-serving amount of rice as it cooks (in the rice cooker) for a complete meal.
  • A Riesling or Gewürztraminer wine is excellent with this dish.