THE festive blow-out is now just a memory (and an extra notch on the belt). No doubt you have made plenty of New Year’s resolutions – perhaps to be more self-sufficient or greener, eat more healthily or that old chestnut, to lose weight and get fit.
A few years ago the Cabbage Soup diet was all the rage, with its claim to shed 10lbs in seven days. All you had to do was eat unlimited amounts of cabbage soup. Tough on you – and your family and friends!
The diet has done nothing to help buff up cabbage’s tarnished image. The most unglamorous of vegetables, it has always been the pantomime villain of childhood meals.
One of my nightmare childhood memories is being forced to eat plates of foul smelling, soggy and anaemic- looking cabbage at school meal times.
That’s a shame, because lightly blanched in salted water and finished off with pepper and butter, cabbage is a superb vegetable that works well with both meat and fish.
Luckily there are enough varieties available to make it more exciting. If plain old green cabbage isn’t to your liking, what about my favourite, red?
I can hear the cries of dissent from my eyrie in Wallington’s Clocktower Café. It is, I am sad to say, the victim of a swathe of cultural prejudice.
Like its purple cousin beetroot, red cabbage has suffered from something of an image crisis. The over-pickled vinegary stuff in jars we are all too familiar with, has given this wonderful vegetable a bad name.
Served as a condiment with cold meats, the red stained malt vinegar slowly spreading across the plate colouring everything it touches, this notorious winter staple is more loathed than loved.
Imagine being less popular than regular green cabbage or sprouts?
I have to confess I used to be a member of the anti-brigade. It’s back to the days when it was either stewed to within an inch of its life or drowned in vinegar.
Then my eyes were opened to the delights of this hearty, tightly packed ball-shaped member of the brassica family.
Two things I have learned is that pickling doesn’t do red cabbage justice – and the possibilities for its culinary uses are endless. It can be eaten raw and thinly sliced in salads, stir-fried, steamed, braised and turned into soups.
In the depths of winter, the vibrant red of its leaves adds a dramatic burst of colour alongside more sombre root vegetables. And good news for those looking to lose a few pounds is that it’s low in calories and packed full of nutrients.
Not that I am advocating everyone should go on a red cabbage diet!
One thing you should bear in mind when cooking red cabbage is that it reacts dramatically to even slightly hard water. The alkaline has the effect of turning it from vibrant red to an unappealing blue.
This is why recipes usually include an acidic ingredient like citrus, vinegar or wine to help preserve red cabbage’s rich purple-red hue.
If you fancy growing your own, they are not a demanding vegetable and now is the time to be planting them.
Just keep them well watered and ensure the slugs and caterpillars don’t have a field day. Given a choice of green or red cabbages to munch on, however, my experience is that garden pests mostly seem to favour the latter.
Perhaps in a past life they too were fed on a diet of soggy pickled cabbage.
Wallington, Cambo, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 4AR, 01670 773600, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wallington. The walled garden is open all year seven days a week from 10am until dusk. Tuck into local produce in the Clocktower Café, open 10.30am-4.30pm Monday-Sunday.
Recipe: Norwegian Surkal
This is a delicious red cabbage dish that can be served hot with turkey or pork, or tastes equally nice eaten cold with ham or a pork pie.
1kg red cabbage
300g cooking apples
Caraway seeds to taste
100g granulated sugar
20g plain flour
250ml red wine
Method: Shred the cabbage and grate the apples and mix together. In a pan with a tight fitting lid, layer the cabbage mix, dust with the flour, sugar and caraway seeds, filling the pan layer by layer.
Pour on the red wine and water and bring to the boil with the lid on. Turn down the heat and simmer until tender.
Food fact of the fortnight
Cabbage, one of the oldest of the brassica vegetables, and the ancestor of broccoli and cauliflower, has been used in cooking in Europe for more than 4,000 years, giving it an epic history. In fact, the Latin word brassica comes from the Celtic word bresic, meaning cabbage.
The English word cabbage comes from the French caboche, meaning head.
Buying: Red cabbage lasts for ages, so you shouldn’t have a problem with it going off.
Choose cabbages that feel firm and whose outer leaves are still crisp, rather than shriveled.
Preparing: Wash the leaves well to remove any mud and slugs. Then you can slice finely to use in salads or coleslaw.
If cooking, steam or stir-fry it lightly, so it’s still crunchy.
This gives you maximum taste and vitamin content. If you over-cook cabbage, it goes smelly – remember those old school dinners?
Storing: Store in a cool, dark cupboard for a week or two. It will keep for longer in the fridge, but the cold can impair the flavour.
Where to buy
Red cabbages are inexpensive to buy and are readily available at this time of year from supermarkets, quality greengrocers and farm shops, such as our one here at Wallington which, like the wider estate, is open throughout the winter.