Friday, February 7, 2014

Braised Red Cabbage, Sour Cherries, Nuts

With the Sochi Olympics upon us, I wonder if Russian dishes will be popping up all over the blogosphere?  The media seems to have mentioned borscht hundreds of times in the last week, so I thought I'll write about something completely different.

When I came to the US in 1991, many of the vegetables we thought of as main stream in Moscow seemed exotic to our American friends.  Beets, for example.  In 1991, few Americans realized beets were edible.  Fast forward to 2014 and few restaurant in the US don't have a beet salad with walnuts and goat cheese on their menu.  Sadly cabbage didn't fair as well.  Few vegetables are more near and dear to a Russian cook than cabbage.  But getting Americans excited about cabbage is not easy.  Not that it's exotic.  It's just kind of blah.  The first dish that comes to mind is cole slaw.  But as soon as you mention cooked cabbage, most people think of the Irish boiled dinner.  No offence to Irish cooking, but I doubt that boiled dinner will make anyone fall in love with cabbage.

So if you are not a cabbage fan yet, I think I have just the dish for you.  No Russian will accept this as an authentic dish, yet underneath all the flavorings it's just a braised cabbage -- a classic Russian technique that shows of cabbage like no other.  It's kind of like caramelized onions, only with cabbage.  I replace white cabbage with red here and add some sweet and sour components: port, pomegranate molasses, and sour cherries.  This makes a lovely accompaniment to duck, pork, beans, pasta, or a grain.

Cut a medium red cabbage head in half.   See that white core.  It's tough.  We'll be using all of the head except for the core.
Position the cabbage half with the core to your left. Make a few slits without going through the core end and cut into 1/4 inch thick slice perpendicular to those slits.  If you are left handed, flip the whole process.
When you get to the core, stand the cabbage up on the other flat side and keep shredding around the core.  Discard the core. Repeat with the other half.
Set a 12 inch stainless steel pan with straight sides over high heat (an enamel coated dutch oven works too).  Add 1/4 cup olive oil and heat it up on high heat.  Add the cabbage and a generous sprinkle of salt.  Stir to distribute the salt.
Cook without stirring until the bottom browns.  Stir and cook again until the bottom browns.  Repeat this process 3-4 times until you get lots of brown spots.  Watch out, cabbage can easily burn, but don't chicken out and stir it too soon or you won't develop much flavor.
Add 1/2 cup port (or red wine) and 1/2 cup dry tart cherries (or raisins, prunes, dry apricots, etc). Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes or until cabbage is tender.
Set a separate 8-10 inch skillet (ideally stainless steel) with 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium-heat.  Add 1 large yellow onion, diced, and a generous pinch of salt.
 Cook stirring occasionally until golden brown.
 Add the onions and 1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses (available at Whole Foods and Middle Eastern stores) to the cabbage.  You can replace pomegranate molasses with 2 tsp red wine vinegar and 2 tsp maple syrup.  I like to add 1/3 cup toasted and chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, or whatever you have on hand).  But nuts are optional.
Stir everything together and taste for salt.  Chances are you'll need some to balance the acidity.  Can be served right away or reheated later.


Kari said...

I love cabbage and will definitely try this - sounds delicious.

Helen, what can you tell me about the Russians' love of sour cherries? Every summer we go to an orchard in Wisconsin and pick them to use in pies. We take home about 2 gallons worth (which seems like a lot). There are always many Russian families (multi-generational) in the orchard, taking home 10-20 gallons each. Most don't speak English so I haven't been able to get much information about what they do with all those cherries but I am fascinated!

Helen said...

Hi Kari,

Yes, we love sour cherries in Russia. We use them for preserves, compotes, pies (usually made with brioche dough), and my favorite: vareniki (Ukrainian pierogi). In Ukraine vereniki can be both sweet and savory. That's just of the top of my head. I am sure there are more applications. The people who are picking 10-20 gallons are probably canning or freezing some.