Monday, September 28, 2015

Sort-of Salad of the Month: Sesame-Braised Cabbage with Leeks

Somehow, September kind of slipped away from me. I knew four weeks ago that I needed to come up with a new Soup or Salad of the Month recipe, but nothing that looked appealing came across my path, and before I knew it, the month was nearly over and I still hadn't found a new recipe.

So when I finally tried a new vegetable dish last weekend, I decided to go ahead and call it my Salad of the Month, even though it's not really what most people would consider a salad. It is a mixture of veggies, but it's served hot or warm, not cold. So it's definitely not a salad by my dictionary's definition, which is "a cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing." But on the other hand, there are dishes that are served warm but are definitely considered salads, like the Warm Chick Pea Salad with Arugula we had back in May. So where exactly do you draw the line? There's a fairly earnest discussion of the subject on the Serious Eats forum, in which people point out that dishes composed primarily of Jell-o with fruit or veggies added are considered salads in the Midwest, and cooked ingredients like eggs and shrimp appear in so-called salads all the time.

So I think I'm just going to say that, while this dish may not fit most people's idea of a salad, it does fit in with my initial goal of eating a healthier, more veggie-centric diet, which was what prompted me to focus on soups and salads for my Recipes of the Month this year. And given the choice between including a questionable recipe and having no recipe at all for September, I think it's better to go ahead and count it. You can argue with me in the comments if you like.

So what is this sort-of salad dish? It's a very simple recipe from Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without (Tante Malka, 2007), combining cabbage and leeks in a sesame dressing. You saute the sliced leeks in a bit of melted butter until they're "very tender," then add an equal volume of cabbage and a bit of water and let it cook over low heat until the cabbage is "tender" as well. (This is the step that makes it questionable to classify this dish as a salad. If the cabbage was cooked only until "tender-crisp," then I think I could call it a salad without feeling like I was cheating.) Then you dress the whole business with dark sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, and salt and pepper to taste.

We served this up as a side dish, with some pan-broiled sausages (free-range from the Amish market, of course) and leftover polenta. Unfortunately, the flavors of these three dishes didn't really complement each other all that well, so I didn't feel like the dish was being shown to its best advantage. But even if it had been, I honestly don't think I'd have been all that crazy about it. Cabbage, to my thinking, is at its best when it's a bit crisp, not cooked into mush. If we'd cooked the cabbage to tender-crispness rather than sogginess, as I suggested above, it probably would have been more to my liking. As it is, I don't think we'll be making it again.

So as an addition to our vegetable repertoire, I don't think this sesame-braised cabbage can be considered a success. But as a way to get me through the month of September without having to scrap my New Year's Resolution, it's at least a partial success.
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