Caesar the day
Cabbage: not just for St. Patty's day anymore

Caesar the day
Ari LeVaux - 03/14/2019

At a Vietnamese restaurant during college, my friend Wayne observed that most of the world’s meals could be divided into “substance and sauce.” That night, for example, rice was the “substance” of nearly every menu item, either in the form of whole white grains or noodles, and was dressed in an array of curries, soups, dips, and other synonyms for “sauce.”

Wayne’s paradigm is not perfect by any means; one could have a field day finding exceptions. But the formula contains a kernel of truth that has given me years of insight into the structure and function of food.

Inevitably, the “substance” is something that, for a variety of reasons, we should be eating, while the sauce makes us want to eat it. Rice  is an affordable way to fill a belly with calories, therefore it is good and we should  be eating it. In a dish like pizza, the sauce makes the cheaper but relatively bland crust more interesting. In a sandwich, the sauce in the middle gives more purpose to the bread. A pat of salted butter is the only sauce a baked potato needs, while a fried potato gets ketchup.

Cheap white carbs aren’t the only type of substance to which “Substance and Sauce Theory,” as we called it, can be applied. Vegetables are not as cheap as grain-based calories, and many people are even less inclined to eat them. Yet we “should” eat them because they have vitamins, fiber and other good stuff. Unfortunately, a plate of naked greens won’t appeal to most omnivores. Ditto for a serving of steamed broccoli.

And then there is cabbage, a vegetable that is at once belly-filling, cheap and flush with vitamins, minerals, a sweater’s worth of fiber, and unbound versatility. Cabbage can be served raw, cooked or fermented, with a flavor that can range from sweet to spicy to pungent, and a Caesar the day texture that can be crunchy or tender.

In 2018, the European vegetable distributor Ribambelle built a machine that cuts cabbages in half and wraps each half in plastic, showcasing a beautiful cross section of its many tight layers. This sales tactic is as old as it is new. Parents have known forever, and research has recently confirmed, that kids will eat more apple if it’s served in pieces, rather than whole. Ribambelle credits this “cutting machine” for the 5 percent increase in cabbage sales it saw last year, and I wondered if cutting up a mess of cabbage at home would likewise increase my own consumption.

I chopped two large heads, crosswise from tip to heart, removing the core from the slices that contained it. This filled a large mixing bowl with ribbons of fettuccine shaped cabbage slices. Using that cabbage was practically effortless.

I kept the bowl in the fridge, tightly covered but at the ready to be deployed on demand.

I started with an Asian orientation, tossing it into the speckled broth of a fancy packet of instant Ramen, in place of noodles. Lightly cooked in this brothy sauce, the cabbage barely lost its crunch. This was followed by stir-fried cabbage slices in bacon, garlic and oyster sauce like I would cook rice noodles. But cabbage is less filling than rice noodles, and you can eat heaping serving after delicious serving. Eating sliced cabbage is one of the few instances where chopsticks offer a distinct tactical advantage. Real noodles can be eaten with a fork, but crunchy cabbage, not so much, as the shards are unwieldy for either a fork or spoon. Fork AND spoon work, if you use both hands. But real chopsticks allow you to nab any shard of leaf you wish. If you aren’t good at chopsticks, chop it finer.

That sliced cabbage straight up begged me to make fish tacos, and I could only comply. Soon, I added the cabbage as a base for most lunch and dinner plates. It would cling to other pieces of food and sneak into the kids’ mouths while they were chewing, and they wouldn’t spit it out.

That bowl of sliced cabbage is a recipe unto itself – many, in fact – and having it around will teach you how to use it. But I will leave you with one specific substance & sauce combination: Caesar slaw.

Coleslaw is practically synonymous with picnic but excels in many other situations and a variety of seasonings. My favorite is Caesar slaw: chopped or grated cabbage with Caesar dressing. This Caesar sauce, which comes from farmer Lucy, contains mustard powder, which compliments the mustardy undertones in cabbage. This, counterintuitively, dulls the sulfury flavor. It also includes mayo (or Vegenaise) in place of the raw egg used in a typical Caesar dressing because I find it less icky. For a final bit of mojo, it also contains Worcestershire sauce, which rhymes with je ne sais quoi, especially when pronounced by Wayne, a lifelong resident of California. Finally, DO NOT neglect the lemon zest.

I like to leave the cabbage in large, chopstick-friendly strands that recall the large chunks of romaine with which Caesar dressing is typically served. But chopping the cabbage to a narrower width is good too, and easier to eat with a fork.

Caesar Slaw

Eight servings
1 lb green cabbage, chopped head-to-core to 1⁄4-inch slices
2-4 cloves fresh garlic
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1⁄2 teaspoon mustard powder
1⁄2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (or whole anchovies, orfish sauce)
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1⁄2 cup mayo
1⁄4 cup of lemon juice
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
Add the chopped cabbage to a mixing bowl and gently break it apart and tousle it, like you’re trying to make it look like Meg Ryan’s hair. Blend the garlic, salt, zest, mustard powder, Worcestershire, anchovy and olive
oil. When smooth, add the mayo, lemon juice and half of the cheese. Toss the cabbage in the dressing, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and black pepper to taste, and serve.

Top Shelf

Annual drinking of the green & festival season rundown
Annual drinking of the green & festival season rundown
By Chris Aaland
03/14/2019

All aboard the Shamrock Express! The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad hosts a St. Patty’s Day train to Cascade Canyon from 9:45 a.m. ‘til 3 p.m. Sunday. Irish beer and drink specials abound, with BREW Pub & Kitchen crafting a special Irish red beer for the occasion.

A special spot in tarp heaven
A special spot in tarp heaven
By Chris Aaland
03/07/2019

Scott Spencer was my festival brother. Back in the late ’90s, as Shelly and I had just started making an annual Telluride Bluegrass pilgrimage the centerpiece of our lives, we threw our sleeping bags down next to Scott and his wife, Sara, in the Front of the Line, and a lifelong friendship was born.

Local talent, son of Marley & the Cape Breton sound
Local talent, son of Marley & the Cape Breton sound
By Chris Aaland
02/28/2019

These are great times for local music. In recent weeks, new records by Afrobeatniks and StillHouse Junkies have dropped, and they’re not just keepsakes for friends and family members

Indie rock'n'roller, uptown jazz and math rock
Indie rock'n'roller, uptown jazz and math rock
By Chris Aaland
02/21/2019

When did you first discover Martha Scanlan? For me, it was around 2001, when her old-time bluegrass outfit, Reeltime Travelers, began appearing on the festival circuit, playing the old Silverton Jubilee, the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, Telluride Bluegrass and RockyGrass.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Hope springs eternal
Hope springs eternal
By Stephen Eginoire
03/14/2019

Chlorophyll makes a triumphant return to the Animas Valley! Yes, green pigment never looks as green as when the first leaves emerge from the icy depths of winter.

Tierra Encantada
Tierra Encantada
By Stephen Eginoire
03/07/2019

It’s not difficult to find authentic culture here in the Southwest. Colored by Native, Hispanic and Spanish influence, the spectrum of people who are deeply connected to this region runs thicker than a muddy Rio Grande.

Sands of time
Sands of time
By Stephen Eginoire
02/28/2019

The erosional oddities of Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness located south of Farmington attract desert lovers from near and far to explore its desolate nooks and crannies.

Earth tones
Earth tones
By Stephen Eginoire
02/21/2019

Tired of looking at harsh, reflective white? Then feast your eyes on the gentler, subtler hues of winter. For most, winter brown is an acquired taste.

Read All in Day on the Life