Sweet and sour, not too heavy and boldly beautiful
By Mary Ann Ebner
It’s tempting to slip on a pair of stretchy dark yoga pants this time of year, although not necessarily for yoga. The holiday afterglow that drifts into January makes the rest of the wardrobe feel a little snug. An extra pound (or five) shows up after indulging in everything from office-party cookies to the New Year champagne brunch.
While the extra weight represents an unwelcome reminder of dietary indiscipline, it also provides a souvenir of generous holiday meals shared with family and friends. Visiting around tables is often where we find ideas and a fresh take on ingredients prepared with someone else’s creative touch. It also gives us the chance to continue the custom of exchanging recipes.
The final weeks of 2015 included samplings of food from a parade of nations, including a first-birthday celebration at the home of friends honoring a Japanese toddler. Elaborate cakes and cookies waited for the birthday girl while guests celebrated with sushi and sake. If part of the rituals centered on gracing her with good health through fine food, then guests walked away with a few blessings as well.
Nordic indulgences also own a share of the blame for my extra consumption. Friends who claim a bit of Norwegian heritage by way of Minnesota delivered a box of krumkake in late December. We received these delicate Scandinavian cookies shortly after they were carefully made with a batter of eggs, flour, vanilla, cardamom and sugar. The batter is poured onto an embossed griddle and molded onto a cone to produce a light, flaky cookie flute. The delivery came with a generous supply of whipped cream. They were truly too good to let even a drop go uneaten.
With the Nordic influence continuing into the New Year, a dinner party to mark 2016 could have been titled “Norway on the Hudson.” Encouraged by mild January temperatures, our host and home chef grilled salmon outdoors and served the fish with mounds of roasted baby potatoes and classic Scandinavian cucumber and dill weed salad. We had ended the evening with a healthy-ish calorie count until he carried a steaming-hot chocolate cake to the table topped with a dollup of puffy pillowy cream. Pull out the stretchy pants.
The most adventurous meal of the season — a seven-course Sunday dinner served with a selection of beverages to enhance each course — set a record for calories but more importantly for fun and dining pleasure. Our German hosts treated us (for several hours) after much planning, preparation and care. Each course was punctuated with a subtle touch of flavor and described in detail. Along with the dumplings (which were better than any this side of Bavaria), the cabbage was pure delight. Sweet and sour, not too heavy and boldly beautiful on the plate. A popular German food, red cabbage makes frequent appearances as an accompaniment.
It’s a dish that doesn’t take long to prepare. The version I prefer is mildly spiced and cooked until tender. It’s easy and affordable with ingredients widely available at any market around town. Leafy cabbage ranges in varieties and colors from ivory-white to yellowy-green, purple and bold red. We may think of sauerkraut, the tangy pickled dish made with white cabbage as the more favored German food, but red cabbage appears everywhere as a side, in soups, on sandwiches and in salads.
Choose a firm head with shiny and crisp leaves and sharpen a good knife to produce an ideal shred. Red cabbage naturally complements potatoes and meats but stands well alone as a hearty vegetable. Olive oil serves as a natural substitute for the butter, and additional apples along with raisins and seeds turn sautéed red ribbons of cabbage into a healthy warm salad. This sweet and sour red cabbage preparation produces a mild dish with a big serving of texture.
Serves 6 to 8
1 head red cabbage
3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced
3 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Remove any tattered ends or leaves from cabbage and discard cabbage core. With a sharp knife or mandoline, thinly shred cabbage and set aside.
Heat butter in heavy Dutch oven pan and add chopped shallot. Cook 2 minutes over medium heat. Add cabbage and coat with melted butter. Add remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly. Cook 15 minutes over medium heat stirring frequently.
Lower heat and simmer 30 to 45 minutes until cabbage softens, stirring occasionally. Remove cloves. Adjust with salt and pepper. Serve warm.