Varieties of the species Brassica oleracea are exuberant plants — it's a pity we don't often see them in their glory. Broccoli, the various cultivars of cabbage and cauliflower all produce abundant leaves crowning the head. They sort of show off, profuse in their physical presence. Brassicas are generous and it seems to me fitting to choose cabbage for this article, as a wish for the young year to be generous in serenity and the well-being that comes from sharing food at the table. (We haven't forgotten that, have we?)
I love green cabbage and owe this partiality to my mother: She rarely put it on the menu, so to my young eyes the vegetable had an exotic aura. She sliced it thinly and dressed it with vinaigrette. I don't remember her ever cooking cabbage. I also prepare it as a salad, the way my mother did, though I usually add to it other ingredients, like grated carrots or radishes, or a sliced fuyu persimmon, and, rather than a vinaigrette, as dressing I may use avocado mashed with lemon juice. But I also cook cabbage, particularly this time of the year when hot dishes help counteract the outside cold, so its versatility makes it an ideal vegetable to have on hand.
I am always on the lookout for new ingredients to try in the kitchen (more on this shortly) but also for new ways of preparing beloved foods, so in the years I have experimented widely with cabbage. My current favorite dish pairs it with leeks, another vegetable I love — I know I am not alone here. Some time ago, while in line at the farmers market, I overheard a woman behind me say to her companion, "Everything tastes better if you add leeks." I turned around and nodded vigorously in approval of the statement.
The first incarnation of this recipe included pancetta. Then I decided I wanted to make a vegetarian version using nutritional yeast to add flavor, an ingredient my friend Lissa had mentioned a number of times when our conversation touched the topic of food. On this page is the result, which has been on rotation in my weekly vegetable menu for some time: It's a comforting side dish that goes well with a variety of main dishes, and leftovers make a nice stuffing for roasted delicata squash.
Cabbage and Leek with Coconut Milk
8 ounces leek, clean weight (after the dark green leaves have been cut away and saved for stock or broth)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ pound green cabbage
½ teaspoon harissa spice mix
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
¼ cup coconut milk, or another unsweetened non-dairy milk, such as hemp milk
½-1 teaspoon fine sea salt, to taste
Cut the leek(s) in half lengthwise and slice into 1/8-inch thick half-moons. Rinse them in a colander, then place them in a bowl and fill it with cold water. With your hands, swirl the leeks to clean them well, then scoop them out of the water with a sieve or slotted spoon, and drain them in the colander.
In a Dutch oven, warm up the olive oil on medium heat, turn down the heat to medium-low and add the leeks, stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes. Cover and cook on low heat until the leeks are tender, 12 minutes or so, stirring often.
In the meantime, quarter the cabbage, cut out the thicker part of the core, then slice each quarter into ¼-inch thick ribbons.
Sprinkle the harissa on the leeks and stir well. Add the cabbage and the water, stir well and cover. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, stirring often.
Pour the coconut milk into the pot, sprinkle the nutritional yeast on the cabbage and stir well. Cover and continue cooking until the cabbage is tender to your preference (taste it after 15 minutes to gauge the time remaining), stirring often.
Sprinkle the salt, stir, taste then adjust as needed. Serve immediately.
Simona Carini (she/her) also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com.