January is the no-man’s-land of the year. It has nothing to recommend it, being – at least here in the northern hemisphere – drab, cold and devoid of holidays. It takes forever to
get to February, when we can start to complain about and/or look forward to Valentine’s Day.
The first of January, on the other hand, comes around way too fast, especially if you’re an American, and you barely have time to digest your Thanksgiving turkey before you are compelled to start on a month-long frenzy of festivities, shopping, cooking, baking, eating, drinking, singing, travelling… made all the more frenetic if you’re one of those people who thinks that many gifts should be homemade (but somehow didn’t realise this might mean working all year to make them). Add to that the final big party of the year, and in my family’s case, four (yes FOUR) birthdays starting on Christmas day and ending on 2 January. Oh, and don’t forget the solstice!
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a lot to squeeze into one month. All that activity in December throws January into even starker relief; its long, dark and dreary profile looms ahead, especially when you add in the newly-founded-but-gaining-support-fast Dryuary. Then, of course, there’s still Veganuary.
So The Author and I have come up with a cunning plan. I suggest we move Christmas to 25 January. That means my birthday is unencumbered by people celebrating the birth of Christ and not concentrating on me. Er, I mean, that gives us plenty of time to get ready for a season of celebration, and it breaks up what has been till now a relatively boring month. We need to move Hannukah and Kwanzaa as well, and if you celebrate anything else in December, petition to move that too. The more the merrier.
Then – and this is the master stroke, thought up by The Author – move the beginning of the year to the winter solstice. What better time to start the year (and the biggest party) than on the shortest day/longest night? From there we move along to a festivity smack in the actual middle of the bleak midwinter, and after, if you’re so inclined, you can still have a dry and vegan month – in February, the shortest month of the year.
I’m quite happy with our plan, but I’m not sure how easy it will be to get it implemented. The kids aren’t keen on it, for a start. Anyway, until such time as it happens, for the month of January (and every month for that matter), I’m eschewing extremism of any sort, whether it takes the form of only drinking soft drinks or only eating plant-based foods. On the other hand, I’m not a total apostate, so there will be plenty of water in my glass or tea in my mug, and copious amounts of vegetables on our plates this month. And that means cabbage.
One of the things I have discovered, in my trying to cook mostly seasonally, is that cabbage is almost always in season here in Devon. But far from getting weary of it, I have come to rely on it and here’s why.
- There are so many different varieties: green cabbage, white cabbage, January King, Savoy, red cabbage, Hispi cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and the optimistically named cabbage Spring Greens. This list is by no means complete, but these eight varieties are the ones most often presented from local farmers throughout the year, their availability based on their growing habits and the complicity of the weather.
- Cabbage is versatile. It might seem obvious, but each variety has its own charms and its own strengths, both literal and figurative; to wit, it’s often surprising to me that cabbage can have a bite, a heat to it, when eaten raw. Next time you have an ordinary white cabbage, taste a little slice unadorned, and see what you think. You should notice a strong, hot flavour. This sulphurous quality is what makes cabbage so interesting in raw salads; it tends to dissipate once the cabbage is cooked, and that makes for a whole different vegetable. So in theory, you have two different cabbages for each variety, depending on how you prepare it.
- Cabbage goes with almost everything. it can be dressed up or down, as the occasion demands. It can be bright and zingy, or unctuous and comforting. It can take a back seat to the main event, or it can star in the show.
- Cabbage is cost-effective — in other words, cheap! No matter which variety you buy, cabbage will not break your budget.
- Cabbage is really good for you! It’s packed with fibre and loaded with Vitamin C, with the added benefit of providing calcium, iron and Vitamin A.
- Cabbage is delicious.
Chargrilled Cabbage with Sweet & Sour Dressing (vegan)
This recipe will work with pretty much any cabbage you come across, but the spring greens would be difficult to grill, as would the Brussels sprouts. Still, if you’re up for a challenge (or if you’re finding plenty of time to experiment in this month of endless night), give it a go and let me know how it works out.
Chargrilling the cabbage wedges means that you get a nice and smoky outer edge with a softish bit inside, and then more of a firm bite toward the core, so really, you get three distinct flavours in one go.
- 1 head cabbage, cut into 10 wedges, leaving the core as intact as possible
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
- 1 TB brown sugar
- 2 TB currants
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
Put the vinegar, garlic clove and brown sugar in a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, and then let it continue cooking until the volume is reduced by half – it should be syrupy. Take it off the heat, discard the garlic, and stir in the currants. Set aside.
Generously brush both cut edges of each cabbage wedge with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
Heat up a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. When the pan is searingly hot, lay as many wedges as you can, cut-side down, into the pan. (Note: you may want to turn on the overhead fan!) Allow the wedges to cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes; the point is to let them get a nice chargrilled edge. Check occasionally to make sure that they are cooking evenly; you may need to move them around in the pan if you have hot or cold spots on your stove.
When the wedges have a brown/black edge along the cooking edge, gently flip them over and continue cooking in the same way. When the cabbage is fully charred on both sides, arrange on a platter and drizzle with the sauce, distributing the currants evenly.
Variations (vegan, vegetarian, and carnivorous):
- You could serve it unadorned.
- Sprinkle it with traditional balsamic vinegar as we did one night (served alongside parsnip puree and the perfect roast chicken – a night to remember!)
- Soak and chop some sun-dried tomatoes, mix them with some chopped black olives, minced garlic and olive oil, and drizzle that over the top.
- Shred or tear some melting cheese (like fontina or comté) over the top of the chargrilled cabbage and run it under the broiler for a couple of minutes till it’s bubbling.
- While the cabbage is cooking, in a separate pan sauté a small, minced onion or shallot and a handful of chopped bacon or pancetta. When the onion is soft and the meat is crisp, splash in about 2 TB of red wine vinegar. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the delicious bits off, and drizzle the whole thing over your cabbage.