In my mind cabbage is winter and mittens, unrelenting snowstorms,overheated Moscow apartments with uncomfortable pull out sofa beds, soviet era buildings with thick padded doors that look like you could never get through them to the apartments beyond, and indeed have so many locks and bolts on them that it does take you forever to get through them. Cabbage is forbidding staircases and lifts with malfunctioning lights, watery soups flavoured with a pork knuckle, endless steppe, endless iron tinted fields the Russian kolkhoz – the scent of poverty – and little old ladies with string shopping bags, woolly hats carrying home milk and sugar, cabbage and potatoes and a little pork meat for their dinner. In my mind cabbage does not have a glamour factor – not a glimmer of glamour, however, this cabbage salad is the salad for the non-cabbage aficionado, it is cabbage at it’s best, cabbage dressed up to go out, cabbage with a wow factor -it’s simple, cheap, easy to make in large quantities and will impress anyone you serve it to. An Indian school colleague of mine, who was acting in a play I was directing (alone because my teacher was going through a divorce and said – no worries, you can handle this…alone), brought this to a barbecue one evening many many years ago, and finding a cabbage in my fridge tonight I made this quick cooked salad. It may sound odd, but try it, trust me, you will like it. This salad is the South and warmth it is women with colourful saris, and tropical foliage reflected on water – it is the South of India, I suspect Kerala, but I never asked my friend where his family was from, it may also be Tamil Nadu, however I think that Santiago the Shepherd or any of the Indian food bloggers who read this, will be able to comment, and maybe add a recipe adaptation from their own blogs. So from the cold of Russia to the heat of India the humble cabbage spans all continents and what better dish to bring to Fiesta Friday on the other other side of the world and 6 hours behind me?
Grate the cabbage – I used 400g
Heat a tablespoon of neutral flavoured oil, coconut oil, or if you can get it mustard seed oil, in a saucepan and add 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds (brown or black) – the original recipe calls for mustard oil, but I couldn’t find any that was certified ok for human consumption. Take care not to overheat the oil or else when you add the mustard seeds they will “attack” you like popcorn, have a lid at the ready if they start jumping out of the pan and cover and shake to make sure they do not burn, watch the temperature they burn fast!
Add a small green chili ( I only had a red one so I added half) and a bay leaf
Add the cabbage cover and stir until tender but not totally cooked through, you are looking for al dente.
At this point it starts too look pretty, add a one good pinch sugar
Add 1/4 of the amount of cabbage weight in coconut – dried unsweetened – in my case 40 g
Cover with a lid and stir for while while heating gently for about 5 minutes, let sit for the flavours to develop and leave to cool, add some salt as needed, Remove the bay leaf and the chil and serve at room temperature.
Southern Indian Potluck Cabbage Salad
recipe for 2 people (increase amounts as needed, for more people just keep the bay leaf the same and up the cnili to one whole one, mustard seeds you can use 1 tablespoon for up to 1200g of cabbage I just like to use a lot as I love the sharpness)
- 400g of cabbage green grated
- 40g of coconut grated dessicated (or fresh if you have the energy) unsweetened
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds brown or black
- 1 tablespoon neutral tasting plant oil, coconut oil or ideally mustard seed oil if you can get it
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 green chili
- a generous pinch sugar I used muscovado
- salt as needed
Heat the oil gently, add the mustard seeds and bay leaf and green chili, heat until the mustard seeds start to pop a little, add the cabbage stir until al dente, add the coconut, stir on gentle heat to develop the flavours, let sit covered to cool. Serve at room temperature, goes very well with anything barbecued and will make your vegetarian friends very happy too – if you use a different oil, such as mustard oil, it can of course also be vegan
PS Don’t use ghee for this – the flavour is too pronounced for the delicate flavours of cabbage and coconut, yes, you read right, cabbage tastes delicate here :)!