Saturday, February 11, 2017

Recipe of the Month: Warm Red Cabbage & Barley Salad

For January's Recipe of the Month, I picked a red cabbage salad out of the Stop & Shop magazine, which turned out to be rather uninspiring. However, while searching for that recipe on the Stop & Shop website so I could post it, I happened upon another red cabbage salad that looked a lot more promising. It was a much heartier dish, with apple, walnuts, and barley in addition to the cabbage, and it was served warm, which looked much more appropriate for a cold winter's night. So I printed out that recipe, which you can find here, and set it aside to make for February's Recipe of the Month.

This recipe calls for you to brown the onion first, then add the barley and broth to the same pan and cook it until the barley is tender, throwing in a half cup of raisins for the last ten minutes and stirring in some chopped parsley at the end. Brian made two small deviations from these instructions, one by accident and one on purpose. First, he inadvertently put the barley into the skillet with the onion and toasted them both together before adding the water. However, this didn't seem to hurt the texture or flavor of the barley at all; in fact, Mark Bittman's recipe for barley pilaf recommends toasting the barley for a minute this way, so it may actually have enhanced the flavor.

His second alteration was to leave out the parsley, since we didn't have any on hand (the stuff out in the garden actually seems to be still alive, but it was under a blanket of snow at the time). To us, the recipe tasted just fine without it; adding it might have enhanced the flavor still more, but we certainly de didn't feel the lack of it. So if you decide to make the recipe yourself, you can add these two modifications or not as you choose. I can't promise that they will improve the dish, but they certainly won't do any harm.

The rest of the recipe went according to plan. The shredded red cabbage and chopped apple got cooked together a mixture of melted butter, brown sugar, vinegar, and water, then seasoned with cloves and cinnamon. Then this was served up with the barley scooped on top, sprinkled lightly with chopped walnuts.

This rather unusual blend of seasonings caused the whole dish to take on a curious sort of tart-sweetness, vaguely reminiscent of pickled beets—only without the beetiness, which is the part I don't care for. At first, it tasted a bit odd to me; between the onion and cabbage, apples and raisins, and the spices that I associate with pumpkin pie, my tongue didn't know whether to interpret the dish as savory or sweet. The more I ate, though, the more it started to grow on me. The tension between sweet and savory became appealing, a delicate balance that added interest to the dish.

The textures, too, made a very agreeable contrast, combining tender-crisp cabbage, tender fruit, and chewy barley in every mouthful. It was a bit of a challenge getting just the right balance of barley and the cabbage in each forkful, and I ended up being left with a bit of unadorned cabbage in my bowl and having to get up and add another spoonful of barley to make it come out even. But that just means I'll know better next time.

This recipe has a lot going for it. First, it's tasty. Second, it doesn't call for anything that's out of season in the wintertime, as both apples and cabbages keep quite well from the fall harvest. Third, it's both warm and hearty, making for a comforting dish on a cold night. Fourth, it's quite healthy. The bulk of the dish is fresh veggies and whole grains, two things people are always telling you to eat more of, and aside from a little bit of butter and sugar, there isn't a single thing in it that's really bad for you. And finally, it's cheap. The main ingredients—cabbage, apple, onion, and barley—are all quite inexpensive, and the pricier raisins and walnuts are only used in small amounts. I just ran the recipe through this handy recipe cost calculator I found at Sense to Save, and it appears the whole dish only costs a little over three dollars, and it made enough for two generous dinner portions and at least three lunch portions.

So I would call our Recipe of the Month for February an unqualified success. We'll definitely be adding it to our repertoire of tasty, nutritious vegetable dishes—which is, after all, the whole point of the exercise.
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