A favorite technique in old-fashioned recipes is braising cabbage with aromatic ingredients. French grandmothers love to braise cabbage with onions, carrots, veal stock and salt pork. Romanians cook cabbage with peppers and tomatoes. Other European cooks combine cabbage with meat or chicken so it braises in the juices.
In all these dishes the cabbage acquires a wonderful flavor. However, they require a long cooking time, often an hour or two. With such lengthy simmering, the aroma of cooking cabbage fills the air, and your neighbors may find it's not a particularly enticing one.
An easy way to cut the vegetable's cooking time and its scent considerably is to first blanch it, or cook it for a few minutes in boiling salted water. When you remove the cabbage from the water, it will already be tender. Then you can braise it just long enough for it to absorb flavors from aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices.
At the market, choose cabbage heads that are firm and feel heavy. The outer leaves should be light green and unblemished.
Cabbage is easy to shred with a knife. Hold the core end while shredding the leaves, then remove the core last. An even faster way is to shred the cabbage in a food processor. Quickest of all is to buy fresh shredded cabbage in packages, which are now available at many supermarkets.
This cabbage dish is good with chicken, beef or rice or with its traditional accompaniment of mamaliga, Romanian polenta.
ROMANIAN BRAISED CABBAGE WITH TOMATOES AND PEPPERS
1 medium head green cabbage (about 2 pounds), rinsed, cored and shredded
2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, cut into thin strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup water
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
Boil enough water in Dutch oven or heavy large pan to cover cabbage. Add dash of salt and cabbage and boil until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain in colander. Rinse under running cold water and drain thoroughly. Gently squeeze cabbage by handfuls to remove excess water.
Heat oil in same pan. Add onions and green pepper and saute over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add cabbage and saute lightly 5 minutes. Sprinkle with
salt and pepper. Mix tomato paste with quarter-cup of the water and add to pan. Add remaining quarter-cup water and tomatoes. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, until cabbage and peppers are tender, about 15 minutes.
Serve hot. Makes four servings.
Chicken with cabbage might seem an unlikely pair, but cooks in Northern and Central Europe have popularized it in tasty entrees like this one, in which the cabbage strips are gently braised with the chicken and carrots. Rustic dishes of this type have a timeless appeal, and now have become "chic" and appear on menus of elegant restaurants. Serve the chicken with steamed or boiled potatoes.
COUNTRY CHICKEN WITH CABBAGE AND CARROTS
3 medium thin carrots, peeled, quartered and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 1/4 cups chicken broth, unsalted or lightly salted
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 medium head green cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and cut into strips
2 1/2 pounds chicken pieces, patted dry
1 onion, thinly sliced
Combine carrots, broth, sugar and salt and pepper in medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Cook, uncovered, over high heat until broth is reduced to about three- quarters cup.
Place cabbage in large pan of boiling salted water and cook 5 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and squeeze out excess liquid.
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and brown them. Transfer with tongs to plate. Add onion to skillet and saute over low heat 7 minutes. Add cabbage,
salt and pepper and cook, stirring, 3 minutes.
Return chicken and juices on plate to skillet. Add half of carrot cooking liquid. Cover and cook over low heat until chicken breasts are just tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer breasts to platter. Cover and keep them warm. Continue to cook leg pieces over low heat, covered, until tender, 5 minutes longer. Transfer to platter and keep them warm.
Pour remaining carrot cooking liquid into skillet and boil until absorbed by cabbage. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve cabbage alongside chicken and place carrot pieces on top. Makes four servings.