Wednesday, January 28, 2009

cabbage soup deserves more respect

When was the last time you ate a bowl of cabbage soup that wasn't borscht? Let's face it: green cabbage isn't sexy. Radicchio is cool because it's small and pretty, and you don't have to say the word cabbage when discussing it. Napa cabbage is a touch more sophisticated because it reminds one of verdant green valleys of vineyards. But ubiquitous green cabbage, my friends, often evokes images of damp medieval huts and grubby serfs, or the funky humid smell that often accompanies over-cooked, mushy renditions of cabbage that misrepresent the beauty and utility of this particular vegetable.

Cabbage soup, in particular, can be extra stinky, so it is often avoided to prevent its unique odors from permeating your house, children, and belongings.

Forget what you just read and try the soup recipe below. It smells great and demonstrates the many reasons one should respect and cherish the simplicity of green/white cabbage, such as:

  1. It tastes great when prepared properly, whether cooked as soup, braised as a side dish, shredded for a salad (think coleslaw), or cured as sauerkraut;
  2. Cabbage is perhaps one of the cheapest vegetables available (often selling for 99 cents per pound or less!);
  3. It stores very well in the refrigerator - I harvested the cabbage for the soup in the picture from my garden in early November and didn't eat them until January - they were simply wrapped in plastic in my crisper);
  4. Cabbage is one of the few local vegetables that is available midwinter in Minnesota and other northern states.
This recipe serves 6 as first course or 4 as a main dish.


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large green or white cabbage, cored and sliced very thin
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 3 large potatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 thick slices of fresh pork belly (or 1 cup cubed bacon or ham)
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat 5 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy dutch oven or soup pot. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes, until softened but not colored. Add the white wine, potatoes, onions, and nutmeg and pour in enough water to cover. Add the pork and bring to a boil, then lower the heat, and simmer gently for about 1 hour, until the meat is tender.
  2. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, unti it is just beginning to color. If necessary, reheat the soup over low heat to keep hot.
  4. Serve hot in bowls with a swirl of cream and the garlic chips. If using pork belly, place one piece in each bowl or upon a piece of toasted bread. If using ham or bacon, divide evenly among each bowl.
This is a very hearty soup that easily works as dinner with some good bread and a big beer or glass of dry white wine.

Note: I adapted this recipe from Pork & Sons, which I wrote about earlier this week.

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