When Andrew and I received the news that we were going to get Napa cabbage in this week’s CSA box, we quickly moved through the five stages of grief. Denial: It can’t possibly be as big a cabbage as last time. Anger: Why does the cabbage have to be this big? Who would ever make a cabbage this big? Bargaining: Maybe if we go cook all of the other ingredients in the CSA first, the cabbage will magically take care of itself. Depression: What am I doing? Why am I thinking about this cabbage at all? Is cooking vegetables the only worthwhile thing I’m doing with my life? Acceptance: This is our fate. The only thing to do is move forward with determination and resolve. One leaf at a time.
Other people probably have a different reaction to the knowledge they are able to receive a Napa cabbage, something more along the lines of ambivalence. But, we had prior experiences that had left us deeply apprehensive. Last year the cabbage we got from the farm was the largest cabbage in the entire world. It lived in the refrigerator in a garbage bag since there was no other bag large enough to contain it, and took up an entire refrigerator shelf by itself. It was monstrous, and we had it for weeks, if not months before it became so desiccated that we threw it in the compost bin in despair. It became a symbol of our failure.
When we unearthed this year’s Napa cabbage from the larger-than-usual box, it was, if anything, bigger than last year’s.
We weighed it and were alarmed, but not surprised to discover that it was 4 lbs, 2 oz.
As with all our problems, we felt it best to start by throwing it in a Walgreen’s bag, putting in the fridge, and ignoring it for as much of the week as possible.
We decide to tackle the CSA broccoli instead. This recipe for a red pepper and broccoli stir-fry with Thai peanut sauce is from Cooks Illustrated. It’s easy and awesome and we’ve made it dozens of times, though this was the first time we’ve stir-fried in on the grill (our new favorite form of cooking). We usually add tofu to it in order to make it a little more substantial.
Stir-fried Broccoli and Red Peppers with Peanut Sauce
We love the peanut sauce, so we usually “halve again” the sauce portion, which makes for some interesting math problems. To make the sauce, you mix together 4.5 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1.5 tablespoons of light brown sugar, 1.5 tablespoons lime juice and some zest, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Add 3/4 cups + whatever half of that is of coconut milk, whatever 1/4 + 1/8 cups of water is, and 4.5 tablespoons of peanut butter. Whisk it all together and set it aside. Then you can prep the vegetables: slice up 1 large red pepper into strips and cut the broccoli into 1 inch chunks.
Add the 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok. Once it’s shimmering, add the tofu and cook it until it’s slightly browned. Then cook the red pepper and the broccoli one batch at a time and brown for a minute or two. Push the vegetables to the side and add another teaspoon of oil. Cook about a tablespoon of minced ginger and a tablespoon of minced garlic until it’s fragrant and then mix back in the rest of the vegetables.
Pour in the sauce and then simmer everything through until crisp tender. We usually serve it on brown rice.
CSA vegetables used: Broccoli
Other ingredients used: Red peppers, tofu, peanut butter, fish sauce, lime
Side note: If you have a new jar of peanut butter, you can use this method to mix it together.
Other side note: Don’t lose hold of the jar, or you will get peanut butter all over your kitchen.
After the joy of the broccoli, we decided it was time to bite the bullet and deal with the Napa cabbage. One might think that the smartest thing to do with the Napa cabbage was something simple, like coleslaw or kimchi. But I had been pushing cabbage rolls for a while, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me now. Maybe because I felt an urge to get in touch with my Eastern European roots? Or because they froze well and also had protein in them?
Andrew was not particularly convinced, but in a moment of meat craving decided to give it a go. In an act that ultimately proved a great test to our relationship, I ran off to a wedding gig, leaving Andrew to cook them by himself. My gig was all the way out in Geneva, IL—and an hour and a half each way—and I think he was cooking cabbage rolls the entire time I was gone. I texted periodically to see how he was doing and his responses caused me to become increasingly concerned about his emotional state.
Our recipe came from All About Braising, an excellent cookbook by Molly Stevens that has been the source of any number of totally delicious, easy recipes. We are not totally sure if this is one of them.
- You are supposed to boil a pot of water and submerge the entire head of cabbage upside down in the water. This was clearly not going to be an option for us, since there isn’t a pot large enough to hold this cabbage, so Andrew tore off about 2/3rds of the leaves and blanched 4 at a time for about 30 seconds in the water, then plunged them in ice water to stop the cooking. He admitted later that the Napa cabbage leaves were really beautiful after blanching.
- 12 of the leaves will get used to wrap the filling. This will be called Cabbage 1. The rest get chopped it to be included in with the sauce, and will be referred to as Cabbage 2.
- Chop an onion into 1/4 inch dice. This will be called Onions 1.
- Now you partially cook some rice. You melt a tablespoon of butter in a medium saucepan and add Onion 1 and mix it around. Once Onions 1 is cooked, add 1/2 cup of white jasmine rice and cook it for 1-2 minutes. Then you raise the heat to high, add 3/4 cup of chicken stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Then you transfer it to a bowl and spread it out so that it will cool.
- Once the rice is cooled, add 1 lb ground pork and 1/2 lb ground beef (we ground the meat ourselves). You also add 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of chopped thyme, salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, and a 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Mix it all together well.
- Now you “rinse the sauerkraut,” which is kind of a weird step. You pour out a pound of sauerkraut into a colander and rise it in cold water. Then you squeeze out the excess water into the sink.
- Fry about 5 or 6 oz of bacon until crisp.
- Chop another two onions into 1/4 inch SLICES and set those aside. These we will call Onions 2.
- Now you take Onions 2, along with 3 celery stalks and 2 carrots that have been diced and cook them in the bacon fat. Saute the vegetables until they’re softened, about 15 minutes. Add the Cabbage 2 and cook another 5 minutes. Add the sauerkraut transfer everything to a large bowl. Add 1 can of chopped tomatoes and all of their juices, along with some more black pepper.
Put it all together:
- Preheat over to 325 degrees.
- To make the rolls: divide the rice filling into 12 portions. Take a leaf of Cabbage 1 and place it on a work surface. Put one of the filling portions in the center of the cabbage and then roll it up. There are some super complication instructions in the recipe for how to do this, but if you’ve ever rolled up a burrito or a spring roll, just do that.
- Now you basically spread 1/2 of the sauerkraut/vegetable mix on the bottom of the lasagna pan, put the cabbage rolls on top, and add the other half of the sauerkraut/vegetable mix. Put bacon crumbles on top.
- Bake covered with silver foil for 1 1/2 hours.
When I got home from my gig, Andrew had been cooking for nearly 4 and a half hours, and was laying on the couch in the front room with a glazed expression on his face. He pulled himself together and we hopefully sat down to dinner.
The cabbage rolls were edible in a technical sense of the word. They were fine. But definitely not worth cooking for four and a half hours. We ate them with a loaf of bread and some cheese and then froze the rest. We think we might eat them again if it was -15 degrees out and we had run out of food and the car wouldn’t start, something which isn’t out of the realm of possibility come February.
CSA vegetables used: 1/2 of the cabbage
Other ingredients used: sauerkraut, onions, butter, rice, chicken stock, pork, beef, an egg, thyme, bacon, celery, carrots, a can of tomatoes
The next day, the temperature was back up to 90 degrees and I had two outdoor gigs. I didn’t get home until 8:00 or so, drenched in sweat from playing nestled in the corner at someone’s garden wedding. I tentatively texted Andrew from the gig to see if he was still willing to cook us dinner after the cabbage roll experience, or whether I should consider swinging by Chipotle instead, or maybe sneaking into the wedding reception. I was pleasantly surprised when he cheerfully declared that dinner would be ready when I got home.
The only CSA vegetable still unaccounted for was the bok choy, and Andrew had selected a simple vegetable stir-fry from Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
To make this dish, you fry up 2 crushed garlic cloves in 2 TB oil in a wok, then add 1/4 pound of mushrooms, and 1/2 lb bok choy. Then you add 1 TB fish sauce, and cook for a few minutes before adding 1 TB fermented soybean paste. Serve with rice.
CSA vegetables used: bok choy
Other ingredients used: Mushrooms, fish sauce, fermented bean paste
Andrew prepped the ingredients in the time it took the coals to heat through in the chimney starter. It took about 10 minutes max to cook in a wok resting on the coals. It was the perfect dish for a hot night—the vegetables were still crisp, flavorful and browned from the intense heat of the coals.
Next: Indian-style dinner