Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, charred cabbage gives new life to good old bistro staple, the Caesar salad. Unlike Caesar made with lettuce, this recipe can be prepped head and assembled when you want to eat. And the easy vegetarian dressing is damn near drinkable. Be prepared for an intensely umami experience.
Smoke in the kitchen is usually a sign of impending, or actual, culinary disaster. For me it is always toast. We don’t have a toaster, preferring to use a grill/broiler. This works well most of the time but toast being toast, it doesn’t take much for the Maillard reaction to turn into a Kellie over-reaction.
We don’t eat much bread or toast these days so the sequence of ear-splitting alarm, knocking the alarm with a raised broomstick, then opening the doors so the neighbours can smell what a great cook I am, is less frequent of late. Which is just as well as I am usually doing at least three things at once while in the kitchen.
Frankly the fact that I still have a kitchen is a flipping miracle, if you ask me.
But a touch of smoke, blackening, browning and charring can be marvellous. Magical, even. Done right it can tip a food from good to “oh my God”. Even with cabbage.
These properties are NOT, however, great for animal proteins or starchy carbohydrates. I won’t go on to lecture about acrylamide, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, but trust me, you don’t want them in your life very often, if at all. If your toast is burnt, throw it out. If your steak is charred, cry and toss. DNA-damaging and cancer-causing, these compounds, created in the act of burning your food, are bad news.
Luckily, cabbage is fine. This humble and nutritious green vegetable doesn’t possess the properties that interact with excess heat to cause DNA and cell damage. I’m not saying set the thing on fire (completely carbonised food is never good), but a little darkening of colour – in inky bittersweet strips and patches – is delicious. And safe.
Direct heat sweetens the cabbage’s natural – and healthy – bitter edge, rounding it and bringing out subtle umami notes. If you only ever eat cabbage as a salad option in coleslaw, give this a go.
Nutrition notes: cabbage is very highly valued, not only for its fiber content, but also its plethora of anti-oxidant flavonoids and phenols, glutamine, vitamins K, E, C and folate. The trump card, however, is the richness of its glucosinolate content. Glucosinolates convert upon digestion into isothiocyanate compounds, known to be preventive for a variety of different cancers, including bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. Kale, cauliflower, broccoli, rocket (arugula), Brussels sprouts, collard greens, turnips, radishes, watercress and more (all of the bitter vegetables) all have these properties and nutritional spectrum, in varying intensity.
On acrylamides: Food.gov.uk (Food Standards Agency)
HCAs and PAHs: Cancer.gov
Charred Cabbage Caesar Salad
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, charred cabbage gives new life to good old bistro staple, the Caesar salad. Unlike Caesar made with lettuce, this recipe can be prepped head and assembled when you want to eat. And the easy vegetarian dressing is damn near drinkable. Be prepared for an intensely umami experience. xx
1 green or red cabbage, washed, stem end trimmed and outer leaves removed
Hard-cooked hen’s or quail’s eggs, shelled (optional) – amount up to you
Fresh broccoli sprouts or radish sprouts
2 (or more) Ryvita or Wasa crackers, or other wholegrain flatbread cracker
2 tsp olive oil
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp nutritional yeast or grated hard Italian cheese (such as Parmesan or vegetarian alternative)
Lower-fat Caesar Salad Dressing
1 small garlic clove, chopped (let this sit for 10 minutes for health-promoting compound allicin to develop)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (Biona makes a veggie one; the normal kind has anchovy extract)
2 tsp capers
2 tbsp best mayonnaise (I like Delouis)
4 heaped tbsp yogurt
2 tbsp nutritional yeast OR grated vegetarian hard cheese (or Parmesan)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Other options: capers, anchovies, shavings of hard cheese
Equipment needed: lit and ashy barbecue grill, cast-iron skillet or stove-top griddle pan. Instructions are for skillet/griddle pan
1. Quarter the cabbage. Cook without oil on the grill, in a skillet or griddle pan until charred in patches on all sides – about 7 minutes on each side. Pop the pieces into a heat-proof bowl and cover with clingfilm to “cook” in the residual heat for 15 minutes. This will soften it all up a good bit.
2. While the cabbage is “cooking” under cover, make the dressing by bunging everything into a mini chopper and process until smooth.
3. Make yummy Ryvita crumbs by heating the oil in a pan, crumbling in the crackers with the garlic powder and stir over a medium heat for one minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and nutritional yeast.
To make up the salad, cut the warm cabbage into 2 inch pieces and toss with the sprouts. Pile onto two pretty plates and top with sliced egg, Ryvita crumbs, any other suggested toppings you fancy and the dressing.
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Ripe For Pinning! And you can follow me on Pinterest, too.