There may not be much that is certain in life, but here are three things that are certain in the world of cooking:
- You will always happen to be wearing a white shirt when preparing tomatoes, pomegranates or beetroot.
- You will never be able to brown meatballs ‘evenly on all sides’, because they are in fact spherical and therefore do not have sides.
- You will never, ever, find a recipe that calls for an entire red cabbage.
Red cabbage has an incredible property shared by no other foodstuff: that is, the ability to expand infinitely upon being cut with a knife. It may not look very big when you put it in the shopping basket, but as soon as you start to pierce those glossy purple leaves, the red cabbage starts to grow. And grow. You keep on cutting, bravely, stoically, until your chopping board is littered with those crisp, dark-veined slivers, and still they multiply. Soon the cabbage starts to spill over the edges of the chopping board. Like the gemino curse in the final Harry Potter book, or the heads of the Hydra in the Heracles myth, every slice through the heart of a cabbage seems to cause two more pieces to spring from the wound. What started as an innocuous-looking ingredient has suddenly become a proliferation of vegetation, its sheer quantity defying belief. I am sure the red cabbage defies all laws of science and nature in that its mass, once sliced, is greater than its mass as a tightly-furled globe. Where does it all come from?
Eventually, you must come to terms with it and grasp this one, inevitable fact: there will always be more cabbage left over than your recipe calls for.
That is, unless you are making braised red cabbage with apple (one of my favourite uses for this underrated vegetable) for a roast dinner to which you have invited your entire extended family and all of your Facebook friends. Or unless you are making enough coleslaw to top the kebabs of the entire student population of London.
Red cabbage is an infuriating ingredient to have languishing in your fridge. It’s not a vegetable one uses very often, and it isn’t the most versatile. You can’t really chuck it into a pot of stock, unless you want to create a soup the colour of rosé. It’s not easily thrown into a curry or a stew, for the same reason and because its flavour is unique and dominant. Braised red cabbage is not a side dish that can easily partner everything. What on earth do you do with it, then? (Providing, of course, that you’re a waste-phobe like myself and cannot physically bear to put perfectly edible substances in the bin.)
Faced with this conundrum, I came up with a solution to this perennial cook’s problem. I finely shredded the red cabbage with a sharp knife (cue mingled exasperation and awe at its Hydra-like properties), added some strips of carrot, dried cranberries, fresh mint and coriander, then tossed the lot with a zingy dressing made from lemon juice, cider vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, grated ginger, the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of cinnamon. Lo and behold: an invigorating, quite beautiful side dish that is much more versatile than the troublesome vegetable from which it originates. It’s great with rich meaty dishes (pulled pork, burgers, spiced roast chicken) and salty cheeses (feta, halloumi, goat’s), and quite nice on its own too.
More importantly, it will taste so much better accompanied by the sheer relief that only using up leftover red cabbage can bring.
Crunchy red cabbage and cranberry slaw with lemon and ginger dressing (serves 6):
- Half a red cabbage
- 1 carrot
- 3 tbsp dried cranberries
- 3 tbsp each finely chopped fresh mint and coriander
For the dressing:
- 3 tbsp cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 tsp salt (I use lemon salt)
- Juice of half a lemon
- Freshly ground black pepper
Finely shred the red cabbage with a sharp knife and put in a large bowl. Cut the carrot into very thin strips, about 2 inches long, and add to the cabbage along with the cranberries and herbs.
For the dressing, whisk everything together in a small jug. Pour over the cabbage mixture and toss well to combine. Serve immediately (though it also keeps well in the fridge for a few days).