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The use in food of true cinnamon from Sri Lanka, or Ceylon cinnamon, is not as common as the more familiar cassia, which is the one mostly used in Scandinavia for baking and hot drinks and in a lot of winter and Christmas dishes.
True cinnamon has a more complex and flowery taste. The aroma is light and complex, not as strong and pungent as cassia. True cinnamon is a rare spice in Scandinavia, and it is also more expensive.
In Sri Lanka, they grow cinnamon on hills and valleys. The cinnamon tree can be seen in many places. Some farms still do not use pesticides to grow cinnamon, and human labor does all the cultivating and processing.
Harvesting cinnamon is a hard and difficult job, and the preparation of the spice takes significant craftsmanship. You must carefully remove the cinnamon bark from the tree’s branches. Only skilled and experienced people can do it well. In the old days, these workers were called “chalias.” European colonizers were not known for treating them humanely; they were treated more like slaves.
Cinnamon has been written about going far back into history. In the Bible, in the book of Exodus, both kinds of cinnamon were described. The Lord gave Moses a recipe for holy oil with cinnamon that he had to prepare.
Cinnamon has played a vital role in European history. It was an important commodity and a source of growth for the European economy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Christopher Columbus went looking for cinnamon in the West Indies, but as far as we know he found nothing. His fellow countryman Lorenzo Almeida had more luck. In 1505, when Almeida arrived in Ceylon, he found cinnamon trees.
In Europe, cinnamon was sold at a high price for decades, but in the 16th century the price fell and it became more accessible for the common man. Thus, cinnamon became the most popular spice in Europe, as reflected in recipes from that era.
In 1795, the British took over control of Sri Lanka from the French. The trade in cinnamon was about the economy and power and, as with a lot of other commodities, played an important role in history.
Cinnamon trees are not tall; they are more like a bush, and they are pruned often. Harvesting is done twice a year, and at each harvest you take three to four branches and leave the rest. You can also pick the leaves and make cinnamon oil because the leaves have a wonderful delicate and flowery scent. A tree can live for about 40 years; after that, cinnamon producers plant new ones.
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To harvest cinnamon, the branches are processed by scraping off the outer bark, which is discarded. Then the workers loosen the inner bark with a special knife. The bark has to come off when still wet. The 1-meter-long bark strips are folded into each other as a stick. This must be done before the bark dries. (The inner wood is sold off separately to households as firewood.) The cinnamon sticks are then left to dry for a few days under a roof, and then they are dried in the sun. The whole process takes about five to six weeks.
Recently, I visited a cinnamon farm in Sri Lanka just outside Galle. The work of making the cinnamon sticks is carried out in a house on the hill in the shadows of the palm trees and only a few meters from where the cinnamon is harvested.
The cinnamon worker sits on the floor on a leather carpet, wearing a leather apron. To see a worker cut, prepare and clean the branches is fascinating — utter craftsmanship. It takes years of experience to learn the trade, and some of the workers have been employed here for more than 30 years. The hand movements are very meticulous and particular. You can really see the care and craftsmanship both in using the knife and in the entire process of folding the layers of bark into the stick.
In Sri Lankan cooking, it was very interesting to see that they used small pieces of cinnamon in many curries. It is a bit like how we in the West and in Scandinavia use bay leaves in stews, soups and broths, which makes sense because the cinnamon tree is of the same family as the bay leaf tree. In small quantities, cinnamon adds a subtle flavor to such dishes as fish curries, dal or beetroot curry.
Cinnamon is called “kanel” in Danish and Norwegian and a similar word in Swedish. It originates from the German “Canelle.” Both powder and stick cinnamon are part of Scandinavian food culture. Besides baking, we use it in Danish, apples cakes, breads, buns and spice cakes. It has been used here since the Middle Ages in many variations.
For the past 100 years, different versions of cinnamon buns have become popular. They are baked differently in each Scandinavian country. In Copenhagen, Denmark, cinnamon buns seem to be rising in popularity. All the bakeries are doing variations on cinnamon rolls or buns in all sizes, and a lot of them are organic.
We eat cinnamon in our legendary cinnamon buns and rolls; in hot drinks; and especially at Christmas in the gløgg. We eat cinnamon powder mixed with sugar on rice porridge and in rømmegrø, a Norwegian specialty; it’s a porridge made from a sour cream called rømmer boiled with wheat flour, and then hot milk is added. We use cinnamon for curing herring and salmon, in aquavit, in preserving and in various cookies. For this time of year, when it is cold, the fragrance of the warm spice in cinnamon buns is a treat I think we should succumb to at least once a week.
Makes 24 buns
For the buns:
2¼ teaspoon dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm whole milk
1⅓ stick softened butter
1 egg, beaten
6½ cups plain wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
⅔ cup caster sugar
For the filling:
2 sticks soft butter
⅔ cup caster sugar
6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the glaze:
1 egg, beaten
Sugar for sprinkling
1. In a large bowl , dissolve the dry yeast in the warm milk using a wooden spoon. Mix in the butter, then add the egg and stir again.
2. Sift together the flour, salt and cardamom and add to the milk mixture with the sugar, stirring to form a dough. Keep stirring until the dough comes cleanly from the edge of the bowl.
3. Knead the dough on a floured work surface for about 5 minutes. Return it to the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour at room temperature.
4. Make the filling by mixing together the butter, sugar and cinnamon.
5. Divide the dough in half and roll it out to make two rectangles measuring about 16 by 12 inches (40 by 30 centimeters).
6. Spread the cinnamon filling over the top of each. Roll each piece of dough into a wide cylinder and cut into 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) slices.
7. Line some baking trays with baking paper or parchment paper. Lay the cinnamon rolls on the paper, pressing down on each one so they spread slightly. Cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
8. Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C or Gas 7).
9. Brush the cinnamon rolls with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
10. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, then leave to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or cold with a nice cup of tea.
Top photo: A worker prepares the bark in the cinnamon house at a Sri Lankan cinnamon farm. Credit: Trine Hahnemann
René Redzepi had an idea three years ago: He wanted to create a food symposium inspired by the famous Roskilde Festival, which is North Europe’s biggest music festival with a strong identity and sense of community.
After three years of running the MAD symposium — “mad” means food in Danish — I think Redzepi got what he wished for. It was two days of food and love in a rock ‘n’ roll setting under the theme “guts.”
On a Sunday morning, I drove out to an old military area. The area is undeveloped and has this urban charm: Old warehouses mixed with areas of wild meadows leading up to the waterfront with a view to central Copenhagen. It’s quite spectacular.
On an open field, the MAD team had put up a circus tent. In this setting and under the open sky, about 500 people from around the world were gathered — all connected somehow to the food industry. It was a beautiful summer morning. In the middle of an urban meadow, Redzepi greeted the entire group of guests one by one, followed by Danish breakfast and coffee made by some of the world’s top baristas. It was walk the talk from the very beginning. Here was the best coffee I have ever had at any symposium or conference along with a great Danish breakfast of rye bread, cheese, yogurt and, of course, a Danish. It was a convincing start.
MAD Symposium is a celebration of food
The symposium was two days of talks, food, movies — a celebration of the world of food. After breakfast you entered the circus tent, which was dark and had Metallica aggressively coming out of the loudspeakers (not surprising when David Chiang is co-curating). A giant black spotted pig hung from the ceiling, and there was a big wooden butcher’s bench. You kind of knew what was going to happen, but then not at all.
In comes Dario Cecchini. He runs a butcher shop in Panzano in Chianti, Italy, called Antica Macelleria Cecchini. Dario the butcher has a long line of butchers in this family. He also has stories to tell, real stories about eating, respect, love and death. He does that in a dramatic manner and in beautiful Italian, opening up the pig and taking out the guts. Now and then he stops the beautiful stories and his lovely wife translates this butcher prose into English. Listening, you are really touched and you understand why cooking is about life.
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Then he finishes the whole performance with a recital from “Dante’s Inferno” with a deep, clear voice. At that point, tears are quietly running down my cheeks.
On the first day, lunch was cooked by Kamal Mouzawak and the women from Souk el Tayeb, where they cook in the restaurant Tawlét that connects with the market. They had traveled from Beirut, Lebanon, to Copenhagen to cook our lunch and, thus, share the local customs and dishes they cook for their families in their daily lives. We ate a buffet of dolmer, baba ghanoush, hummus, breads, salads with lentils, parsley, pomegranate, sumac and other spices. It was real home-cooked food done with a lot of love.
The other real high point of the conference for me was Margot Henderson. Margot’s husband, Fergus Henderson, gave her such a lovely introduction, saying she was the best cook he knew. With the danger of sounding a bit too hippie-like, at this symposium there was love in the air!
Margot Henderson gave an insight into female cooking and described the differences between female and male cooking: why nourishment is part of female chefs’ cooking, and how male chefs are often driven by prestige and technology. How can anybody think it is better to confit a duck leg in sous-vide rather than fat, as we have done for decades? It is a relevant question.
Also at the symposium, Diana Kennedy gave a talk about her life and ways in Mexico, and Vandana Shiva gave a very thoughtful and important speech about seeds and biodiversity. Redzepi interviewed Alain Ducasse and could not hide his excitement about being on stage with his all-time hero. Christian Puglisi told his story about opening up his restaurant Relæ in a rough neighborhood — which in the first year got one Michelin star and is now 90% organic.
Lunch the second day was also spectacular. Those in attendance came out from the dark tent and walked under the blue sky, and there Mission Chinese Food chefs cooking on woks and serving plates while the Smashing Pumpkins played loudly from the sound system. Right there and then, time was dissolved and all my years in the kitchen became present. Such energy from a bunch of young and upcoming American chefs from San Francisco and New York on a field in Copenhagen gave an instant feeling that the world is really present and everything is possible. Ten years ago, nobody in Denmark would have believed this could happen in Denmark. It just proves there is so much we don’t know, even in the food world.
Every single time I have dined at Redzepi’s Noma I have left very happy, thinking “This is one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had.” Running Noma is one thing, but I really understand Redzepi’s dream: to use his position to create the MAD Symposium, bringing people from around the world together for a conversation about how we can get a better life through food. From a small, insignificant corner of the world, where we do not talk loudly about each other’s success, I really congratulate Redzepi on his dream to create the MAD Symposium. I felt I was part of it for two days.
Top photo: Butcher Dario Cecchini at the MAD symposium during his demonstration. Look closely and you might see René Redzepi in the background near the far left. Credit: Trine Hahnemann
Summer in Scandinavia is a season of berries, and they are enjoyed in many different ways, both sweet and savory. The abundance of daylight hours combined with the not-too-warm weather make the berries thrive. They do not grow big but instead stay small and very tasty.
Strawberries can be in season all summer if the weather allows it, or they can be available for only three weeks. Therefore, as soon as the season starts, you become greedy and eat them every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner: in the mornings on yogurt, for lunch on rye bread and in the evening with cream or boiled with sugar as fruit porridge.
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Raspberries are in season in Scandinavia in July. Pick them when they are warm, dark and ruby red and eat them straight away or save some for a morning treat on raw grain flakes with cold milk. I also like to make jam and save some for Christmas, serving them in December with small doughnuts known as æbleskiver. Both raspberries and strawberries are also often accompanied by cold custard in the traditional Danish summer layer cake.
Other summer favorites are red currants shaken in sugar — a classic recipe in Scandinavia. Take 2 pounds of red currants, rinse and take off the sprigs, then mix gently with 1 pound of sugar; leave for three days at room temperature and shake now and then until the sugar has dissolved. It will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Serve in the mornings on porridge or yogurt and also for dinner with roast chicken or lamb as well as with butter pan-fried fish or on vanilla ice cream.
Black currants are ideal for sorbet, cordial and jam. Jam is eaten in Scandinavia in the morning with cheese, butter and bread. Therefore, it really makes sense to stock up with jam so you have enough to last through the winter.
In addition to strawberries and raspberries, Scandinavians also enjoy their famous blueberries. They are picked in late July and all through August. Blueberries are best plucked wild, when they are smaller and tastier. The wild berries are also the really healthy superberries. If traveling to Sweden, where the blueberries grow, I definitely recommend packing a lunch box and spending a day in the calm, shadowy pine woods picking blueberries, then finding a spot at a small freshwater lake to take a lovely lunch break. Blueberries should be eaten soon after picking; blueberry tarts and pancakes are excellent ways to use them.
Growing up in Scandinavia, berry season was a treat as a child, primarily because the grown-ups would take us to pick them and while we were doing so, we were allowed to eat as many as our stomachs could handle. This was before candy and sodas became part of the 24/7 offerings.
Summer berries bring back sweet memories
All through the summer my grandmother would use berries in cooking and baking. A lot of preserving would be going on in her kitchen. Later on, my mother kept the tradition alive, and over the years I have together with my mother developed a range of recipes for jam, jellies, vinegars and cordials.
We did not pick most of the berries wild but rather in fruit orchards or private gardens, where people grow more berries than they can eat themselves. In my childhood we were always invited to Mrs. Carlsen’s garden to pick red currants, black currants and gooseberries. In exchange, my grandmother would give Mrs. Carlsen jars of jam from our summer production.
There are still plenty of fruit bushes around in private gardens. They were planted many years ago to guarantee supplies. But times have changed, and homemade jams and cordials are not part of people’s busy, everyday lives. Birds probably eat the majority of the berries instead. Denmark’s land is highly cultivated and, therefore, does not have vast forests with a lot of wild blueberries. To find that, you’ll have to go to Sweden, Norway and Finland.
Gooseberry time is late July and August. There are green and red varieties; the green one — the more tart of the two — is perfect for gooseberry compote.
Scandinavia’s seasons can vary month to month. Awareness about the region’s turbulent weather patterns is growing, and preserving is becoming popular even in the urban environment. You do not need to preserve 10 pounds of berries to make a cordial or a jam. Just 1 pound and a cup of sugar will do, and you can make one jar at a time. It’s actually easy and can be done while cooking dinner.
Crêpes With Gooseberry Compote
Serves 4 to 6
For the compote:
1 vanilla bean
1 pound unripe gooseberries, trimmed
1 cup superfine sugar
For the crêpes:
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup light beer
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean
1¼ cups whole milk
Butter for cooking
1. Make the compote by halving the vanilla bean lengthwise and placing it in a pan with the gooseberries and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Pour the hot compote into sterilized preserving jars and seal tightly. When cool, store in the refrigerator.
2. Start making the crêpe batter by beating the eggs together in a large mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk and the beer and beat again.
3. Sift the flour, sugar and salt together, then add to the egg mixture and beat until smooth.
4. Slit the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife. Stir in the milk and vanilla seeds.
5. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes before cooking the crêpes.
6. Melt a little butter in a skillet. When hot, add 5 tablespoons of batter to the skillet, twisting the handle gently to make a large, thin crêpe. Cook until golden on each side — it takes about 2 minutes. Set aside and repeat with the remaining batter. Stack the crêpes on a plate; they will stay warm like this for some time but if you prefer, you can put them in an oven set on low heat.
7. When the crêpes are all done, serve with the gooseberry compote.
Top photo: Crêpes with gooseberry compote. Credit: Columbus Leth
Lemon does not grow in Scandinavia. Despite this, lemon mousse, or citron fromage, the Danish name, is a Danish national dessert, something most people can remember their grandmothers having made. I remember it vividly from my childhood summers. Lemon mousse is part of what we call the traditional Danish cuisine. It became a bit outdated, but it has now come into favor again with the new Nordic cuisine.
Traditional Danish cooking has become popular again especially if well executed and made with high-quality ingredients. Chefs are coming up with new interpretations of traditional dishes. When it comes to lemon mousse, I prefer the traditional recipe because of its clean flavors that carry the memories of Danish summers. The only change I make is adding less gelatin so it doesn’t come out too solid.
I just spent three weeks in Italy at the same place I go every year, Peralta. There, the lemon trees are everywhere because the artist Fiore de Henriquez, who owned and created Peralta, wanted lemons for her early-evening martini. I spend a lot of time cooking when I am there, for my family and also with Laura, who is Peralta’s cook. We usually also arrange some communal dinners, and one night we had a potluck. The Italians cooked different North Tuscan local dishes. I was responsible for the dessert, so we did a Nordic-Italian exchange. Lemon mousse was my choice, and in a way it was a given because of the lemons growing everywhere. That still is exotic for a Dane like me.
Italians already have a lot of recipes with lemon to choose from, but I would like to add one more to their repertoire, and it might even have been inspired by an Italian recipe some 200 years ago. It is such a joy to cook lemon mousse in Italy. There is something really wonderful about picking large, ripe lemons right outside your kitchen door and using them right away. The taste of these lemons made the dessert even more outstanding. The freshly picked lemons are almost sweet, and the zest has such a clean flavor.
When we cook local food to renew our tradition there is a difference between being 100% local or celebrating a tradition. A lot of recipes and traditions originate from history as well as from the terroir. If we only cook from what grows in Scandinavia, we will have a lot of new, interesting limitations, but I also think we miss out celebrating the tradition and renewing it. Interesting ways of cooking came about because of the people who migrated to our region; wars and the influx of foreign soldiers; and the global trading that started in the Renaissance. The beginning of the Europe we know today brought us spices, coffee, tea and later potatoes and also the citrus fruits. So our culinary tradition is a combination of historic events, the terroir and more regional agricultural tradition.
Lemon mousse just one use of the fruit in Danish cooking
Lemons came to Scandinavia in the 1500s and were commonly used in the 1800s. Scandinavian cookbook authors such as the Danish Madam Mangor or Swedish Caisa Warg all had a variety of lemon recipes in their cookbooks, which shows it was commonly used.
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My mother-in-law told me that in the 1950s she often cooked lemon soup because she had a very small budget and lemons were cheap. It is a soup made from a roux with lemon juice, water and lots of black pepper and served with bread. My mother-in-law’s mother’s cookbook from 1913, which she passed on to me, is about how to keep a household on a low budget. It has recipes for lemon sauce and mousse, which demonstrates lemon was commonly used and not too expensive.
Even though the recipe below has ingredients similar to a panna cotta, the lemon mousse is different. It should be fluffy and light, a bit like eating air, with a tart lemon flavor.
I served it that night in Italy to Italians, Slovakians and Brits. It was a huge success, especially with the Italians. They expressed a real enjoyment. I hope they will take up the recipe and share it with family, friends and neighbors. I would love to keep alive the tradition of serving lemon mousse in the summer.
For the mousse:
6 gelatin leafs
6 large size organic eggs
⅔ cup caster sugar
Zest from 1 organic lemon
2 cups lemon juice
1¾ cup whipped cream
1 cup of whipping cream, whipped (optional; some prefer the mousse without it)
1. Immerse the gelatin leaves in cold water for about 5 minutes.
2. Separate the eggs and beat the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer until they become pale and fluffy.
3. In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.
4. Whisk the whipping cream into a light fluffy cream.
5. Take the gelatin out of the water and melt in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and slowly pour in the lemon juice and then egg yolk mixture while stirring all the time.
6. Put aside in a cool place.
7. While the gelatin and egg yolks start to settle, fold in the egg whites and whipped cream.
8. Pour into one large or several small serving bowls.
9. Leave to cool for a couple of hours in the refrigerator before serving.
10. Serve with whipped cream if desired.
Top photo: Lemon mousse. Credit: Lars Ranek
Editor’s note: With the subject “A prosperous future for all: Gender, climate change and biodiversity in a globalized world,” Zester Daily contributor Trine Hahnemann spoke in New York last week at a United Nations event. Hahnemann, a Copenhagen-based chef and caterer and the author of 10 cookbooks, was invited by the Nordic Council of Ministers to participate on the panel.
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Organizers explained that people assume that women and men affect the climate in the same way, and that climate change affects both genders identically. But women’s and men’s lifestyles, behaviors and consumption are often different, and they leave a different environmental footprint. Hahnemann capsulizes the issues for Zester readers below.
How does being a chef and a woman affect your perspective on climate change?
I see the world through food; I have cooked hundreds of thousands of meals in my career. My cooking can only be as diverse and tasty as the produce that the farmers grow. I need diverse products to choose from.
My main focus is on vegetables and grains. I like fish and meat, but not necessarily as the centre of thinking and cooking a meal. I believe we need to change our diet so that 80% of our meals come from vegetables and grains and 20% from animals.
That is a radical change of the diet in many parts of the world, though of course not in India or China, and most parts of Africa. I think we in the Nordic countries should be leading this change, but also show flexibility in its implementation.
We have to change into a more climate-friendly diet: a diet of seasonal vegetables and fruit, more grains, less meat and dairy products. The New Nordic food movement includes ideas to change our daily diet. The new Nordic is in my opinion a frame to understand how this could be a worldwide movement about eating local produce but exchange the ideas globally.
How have our changing, globalizing eating habits affected climate change?
In 2012 in Brazil I met a group of female chefs who wanted to draw attention to organic farming and the use of local produce. One of their focuses was manioc, an indigenous root vegetable, which is not as important in Brazilian food culture as it used to be. It has lost popularity in the competition with wheat. Wheat is not grown in big quantities in Brazil; it is imported.
Brazilians also grow soya and maize, which are exported around the planet to feed cows, even though cows can’t really digest corn but should be eating grass, clover and hay. To do this, Brazilian farmers have cut down the rain forest.
This is an example of how we have changed our diet over the last 50 years. Instead of a diet that relied relatively little on protein, most developed countries eat a diet where about 50% of our calories come from protein from animals. This has had a huge impact on the climate. We have contributed to climate change just by the way we eat. About 18% of greenhouse emissions come from livestock. How we eat in the future is very important when it comes to climate change.
For their part, the Brazilian female chefs pledged to use of manioc in meals at all levels, from fine dining to street food to school lunches.
It can be used for many things, including baking, being cracked like bulgur, sauces and as crisp topping on food.
How is this a women’s issue?
Men and women work from different perspectives. In many aspects, men are more technical; they invent machines, they look for more technical solutions. They are more competitive and are looking for prestige and position and, therefore, the Michelin star system and acknowledgment like that is often very appealing to men.
Women are the ambassadors for the everyday meal. To change the way we eat we need women to take leadership. They cook public meals, which means they cook in hospitals, kindergartens, schools and elderly homes. Women, for the most part, prepare the daily meals in the households. The famous Michelin male chefs can make the light shine and create focus and attention on important issues, but they cannot make the change; they cook for the rich.
What can communities do to contribute?
One way forward is to create action around the way we eat locally, support organic farming and people who work toward a more holistic solution and look at the land and the people around them.
We need poly-faced farms with sustainable holistic systems where nature, humans and food are at the centre. Biodiversity is life, and maintaining biodiversity is therefore a key to understanding sustainable living on all levels, giving back to nature the same resources we are using, keeping the balance. Women around the world have to be an active part of ensuring that, and it should be a human right, that everybody has a right to decent meal day.
Top photo: Chef and author Trine Hahneman. Credit: Courtesy of the author
The days of cabbage boiled to death and what I would call a dark, spicy and not very pleasant brown smell all over the house are over. For years, cabbage has been cooked in so many new ways, and it’s been served raw and been part of different food movements, such as the raw and vegan diets. But I sometimes wonder whether households in general have started using cabbage in their weekly repertoire of meals.
I still meet a lot of people who have never eaten raw kale or a quick sauté of Brussels sprouts with the sprouts still crunchy and having a green color. And I know of people who find it a challenge to buy a big head of red cabbage and carry it home to the kitchen counter, getting inspired to use it in four different meals in the upcoming week.
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Cabbage should be an important part of everyday cooking for three obvious reasons: it’s tasty, it’s healthy and it’s cheap. That ticks all the boxes for your everyday meal. If you live in the Northern hemisphere, as I do most of the time, cabbage is a better choice than salad leaves in wintertime because salad leaves taste of nothing in the winter. When I was growing up, we did not get green salad in the winter until somebody presented iceberg, which became the thing of the 1980s. Instead, we had boiled cabbage in various ways, but luckily raw cabbage in salads started to enter cooking through the vegetarian hippie movement in the 1970s.
When I cook I appreciate all cabbage, but my favorite right now is curly kale, which seems to be an ingredient in most of the things I cook. For years, I think, only my grandmother’s generation ate kale — kale boiled to death and then added to a sweet, white, vinegary sauce that did not seem very appealing. It was a favorite winter meal in the country. I talked about kale for years with other chefs. Everybody said, “You can’t use it for anything really,” and for years I was thinking about ways to use kale before I started cooking with it and using it raw in various dishes.
Versatile cabbage can be used in many recipes
You can choose from several different kinds of cabbage. There’s Brussels sprouts, which — apart from pan-fried with spices — are great raw and chopped finely to be served in a salad with apples and walnuts; or cooked al dente with chili flakes and feta; or made into purée served with steamed white fish; or boiled light and added to a mash.
Another cheaper cabbage is white cabbage, used for the famous old-fashioned dish called Brown Cabbage, where you brown the white cabbage in sugar and cook it slowly with slices of pork belly together with a lot of spices for hours until it is brown and very soft. It is a dish cooked mostly in the country and by older generations, and it is still very popular in Germany. Cooking it once a year seems sufficient, if you ask me. Instead I prefer pan-fried big leafs of white cabbage in butter and sprinkled with a bit of nutmeg. That is a more modern way to eat cabbage.
But white cabbage is also great to use in salads, as a substitute for salad leaves. It can also be used in Asian-style cabbage dolmers: lots of shredded root vegetables with ginger, chili and chopped cashew nuts rolled in big, boiled white cabbage leaves and pan-fried in oil. In the summertime the pointed cabbage can be used the same way; it has a gentler and a bit nuttier flavor. In Denmark you can now get a red pointed cabbage, which you cut into long wedges and pan-fry in butter — it’s delicious.
Red cabbage is great boiled with sugar, vinegar and lots of spices, and it is a favorite for Christmas in Scandinavia. It can alternatively be sautéed with chili in a pan for 10 minutes and then drizzled with lime and sprinkled with chopped fresh coriander. The difference between the cabbage cooked for a long time and a quick stir-fry, apart from the texture, is the taste: The bitterness of red cabbage disappears when cooked for quite a while.
My last cabbage is savoy cabbage, which is used a lot in France. It works very well with Asian flavors. If eaten raw, it has to be really finely chopped and is great with grapes and a strong Dijon mustard dressing. In Scandinavia, the classic way is to eat it with fish.
Cooking with cabbage has endless possibilities and can become part of any world cuisine or mix of flavors. Just buy a big head of cabbage and cut it into pieces, What you don’t use you can save in the fridge and use day to day in your cooking.
This salad is great for lunch or with lamb, chicken or vegetarian pie.
Red Cabbage and Kale Salad With a Ginger Dressing
For the salad:
½ pound red cabbage
¼ pound curly kale
¼ cup cashew nuts
For the dressing:
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or other oil with neutral taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Finely chop the red cabbage and kale and in a bowl.
2. Roast the cashew nuts on a dry frying pan until light brown, and let cool. After nuts cool, chop and add to the mixed cabbage.
3. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing. Just before serving, mix the dressing with the cabbage salad, season with salt and pepper and serve right away.
Top photo: Red cabbage and kale salad. Credit: Trine Hahnemann