I was perusing the NYTimes Dining and Wine section and came across an article on cabbage by Melissa Clark. I actually like cabbage a lot. It gets a bad rap as a boring vegetable, but done right it can be surprising and delicious. One of cabbage’s major assets is its versatility. It can be eaten in a variety of forms: completely raw or pickled; seared, sauteed, braised, etc. And depending on what you, it will have distinct textures and flavors.
In her article, Clark highlights a problem that I often find with cabbage which is that there’s so much of it. We are used to eating a ton of vegetables at home so I always look at a head of cabbage and think “that’s enough for dinner and leftovers”. When really whatever I’m making only takes about 1/8 to 1/4 of a cabbage (for dinner and leftovers) and I’m stuck with this giant layered hunk of vegetable for the rest of the week that doesn’t fit into my meal plans. I never really get it together to come up with a bunch of cabbage meals, and furthermore selling the idea to my wife that we’re eating cabbage all week would be a challenge. As Clark’s post pointed out though, cabbage actually keeps really well in the fridge, so you can use a bit for one recipe and then use some a couple of days later for another. And because it is so versatile, it really does fit into extremely distinct meals, so it doesn’t have to feel like you’re eating cabbage all week.
So far we’ve consumed two cabbage dinners that have been delicious and are due for our third in the next couple of days. The first dish I made was a variation on one of Clark’s recipes from the article. She made "Pasta With Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs". I thought ‘caramelized cabbage’ sounded fantastic and was something I’d never tried before (would it actually be sweet?), and I love anchovies, so I went for it. I wasn’t feeling into pasta then and wanted a more complex flavor to match the cabbage mixture. Initially my idea was to serve it over roasted delica squash, but they were all out when I reached the store. Luckily I spotted Japanese yams and picked those up. The sweetness of the yam goes well with the umami, salty flavour of the anchovies. Also yams are packed with more nutrients than pasta, so it was a win!
The dish turned out to be amazing. Caramelized cabbage is delicious. The sweetness is subtle (don’t think caramelized onions).The texture is soft with a bit of crunch. I recommend trying it! The anchovy flavour in this dish is not overwhelming, so if you’re not a huge fan of anchovies don’t worry, it’s purpose here is mostly for the salt and umami. That being said, if you’re wary you can add less anchovies (Clark’s article recommends just 4 anchovy fillets) or if you want to make the dish vegan you can omit them and add capers instead. See my note below.
Here is the recipe I made. The cabbage mixture is very slightly adapted from the NY Times article, but the Japanese yam addition is mine.
TO MAKE VEGAN: omit anchovies and add capers (about 2 Tbsp) and sprinkle nutritional yeast to taste.
6-7 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can anchovy fillets coarsely chopped (can add less or omit—see note above)
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs ( I used stale homemade bread, but was lazy and did bigger bread pieces—like for migas, but think it would be great with bread crumbs)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
2 medium/large Japanese yams, chopped into half inch square pieces
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/2 cabbage shredded
Preheat oven to 400 F.
1. Mince two garlic cloves. Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the anchovies and cook, mashing with a spatula, until they start to dissolve. Stir in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant (less than a minute). Stir in the bread crumbs and cook until bread is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Place on a dish and season with black pepper.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the yams and cook until soft but not quite done. Drain and dry a bit. Oil a baking sheet with olive oil and arrange the yams in a single layer on the sheet. Brush the top of the yams with olive oil and stick in the oven. Roast until yams have developed a nice brown color. The roasting helps add a bit of crunch to the exterior while the middle remains soft after the boiling. I didn’t season these yams because i think they have a lot of flavor on their own and the anchovies add so much salt to the dish that I wanted to balance it out.
3. While the yams cooks, add a thin layer of olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic and chile and cook about a minute until fragrant. Stir in the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Toss in the bread-crumb mixture and heat through. Season with salt and more pepper, if desired. Serve atop the finished yams.