I probably shouldn't say this. Not out loud, anyway.
It seemed impolitic. Impolite, even. The sort of thing that just isn't said in some circles, much less believed. I had though, for years, fiercely, discreetly. Kept it on the QT, because it was so obviously sacrilegious. But there I was, in trusted company, still awash in my morning coffee rush. Maybe a little giddy, seeing as it was November and the last of the nightshades had finally kicked the bucket (finally). And anyway, even us stoic Scandinavians can keep the hairy messy truth tucked away only so long. So I blurted.
Actually, I much prefer Winter cooking to Summer.
She couldn't have been more shocked were I Sarah Palin, taking sides on quality journalism.
Actually, I much prefer Rush Limbaugh to Stewart.
Actually, Palin probably wouldn't say "much prefer". And actually, I must've danced a few too many parsnip jigs in years past. The psychological community prefers the technical term No DUH!, I think, for the reaction I got. Apparently I don't know how to keep a secret. (FYI.)
Don't get me wrong: I adore high summer, all those tiny zucchini and slender sweet green beans and eggplants and peppers and herbs and and and... All that slap-me-now bounty? It rocks. I revel in it. I haul it home, by the bag and the bushel, and for months we eat Nothing But. I love it.
But I also loathe it, just a little. Because it's sort of exhausting. Pots must be put on to boil before the corn's picked. Peas must be shelled, pronto. Those perfect peaches, those peerless tomatoes, they're relentless. At their peak one minute, sad and slumped the next. Usain Bolts, the lot of them, across the finish line before they're off the blocks, even. Leaves me a little breathless.
And winter's a bit of a bear, to be sure. It gets light late. Gets dark early. Stays cold always. I could do without daily highs well below freezing. And while I'd press Henry James on his beautiful word picks (Spring Afternoon is so very much nicer than Summer, at least in Ohio), I think we'd both agree that Wind and Chill are absolutely, hands-down the most hideous two. When we saw the mercury flirting with forty, we were up and out hiking before the clock hands hit noon. A bit starved for fresh, unfrozen air, perhaps. Deluge notwithstanding.
But winter's kitchen is a thing of quiet wonder, a slow and cozy place. Here's produce that speaks shelf-life, that knows how to pace itself. Hearty greens keep a week. Squash, weeks. Roots, months. (Goodbye Bolt, hello Benoit!) Urgency takes a back seat to endurance, for plants and people both. Those roots and squash and greens being all there is to eat for months, if you're inclined to wait on asparagus until May, anyway. It might seem restrictive, a little Mother Hubbardesque, I guess. But limits like these work their own clever magic. Limits supply direction and focus and spur creativity to solve tough, intractable problems. Like red cabbage, what the heck?
Red cabbage has flummoxed me for years. This bugs me no end. Partly because I'm so keen on green
cabbage, lazily braised or quickly stir-fried or slowly wilted and
caramelized in a good knob of butter. But its red cousin doesn't respond the same way, turning mushy and squishy and a strange shade of blue. This, I presume, is why most recipes serve it up sweet-and-sour style, paired with apples or onions and always, always vinegar. The giant glug of vinegar sets the color, which is nice. It also sets my teeth on edge. I'm actually wincing, remembering. That bad. Worse, really. I much prefer Rush Limbaugh. Well, okay, no. But a winning way, any winning way, with red cabbage, was needed.
So I bought one and brought it home and stared it down for days. Until it dawned on me (finally) that this character's flaws were no flaws at all, so long as you don't apply heat. (Just like the rest of us.) All that water that makes red cabbage soggy when cooked means a salad "green" that's irresistibly crunchy and crisp. And, raw, it remains that fantastic magenta. (Red? Pshaw. In name only.) If your only experience with this veg is the finger-nail clippings in bad salad bars, do try again. Do! Sliced fresh, it's juicy and sweet and completely addictive. I've eaten three big bowls-full, this week alone. Once, I even shared.
To be fair, it was flying in fine company. Six ingredients in all, all simple, all straightforward. Which somehow end up looking a little Lady Gaga, what with that vivid purple playing off the parsley's dark green. Sort of sounds like her, too, with its emphatic C-R-U-N-C-H. But the flavors, the flavors, they're all classic harmony. On the heap of red cabbage goes one tart crisp apple, slivered, for sweetness. Also a half bunch of fresh parsley for bright grassy spunk, and a greedy fistful of toasted walnuts for their buttery crunch. Tossed in lemon and oil (walnut if you have it, olive if you don't) and a spoon tip of dijon, the whole thing sings of freshness and light. No small feat, in the dark days of January. And one more reason (just in case you need one) for a little winter cooking love.
A Deep Winter Salad
Serves 2-4 as a side salad, or 1 hungry Molly as lunch
A full head of cabbage may feel like a big commitment, but bear in mind it keeps two weeks in the crisper, beautifully. Maybe three; by then, mine's always gone. And unlike most salads, I find this one delicious the next day. Everything settles into itself a little, the apples stained pink, the nuts gone a bit toothsome. But it works, quite well I think, if my scarfing straight out of the tupperware's any indication.
Walnut oil is lovely here, if you have an orphaned half-can, or need an excuse to buy one. But there's no need -- olive oil is brilliant.And a final note: I ran through all my parsley one night, and so took trotted this through Southeast Asia, swapping in cilantro, lime juice, salted peanuts and sesame oil. That was nice also (though I love this one best).
1/4 head red cabbage (5-6 cups, slivered)
1 tart, crisp apple (pink lady, honey crisp)
1 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 shy cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 tsp. dijon mustard
2 Tbs. walnut or olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 325º. Toast walnuts on a small baking sheet or pie pan, 8-12 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Cut the cheek off one side of the cabbage (to avoid the core). Lay the cheek flat-side down, then slice into thirds. Now slice cross-ways (90° to your first cuts), thin as you can with a sharp chef's knife. You're angling for nice, slender bite-size shreds. Set aside in a bowl big enough to toss.
Julienne apple (see notes and photos below; so easy), and add to cabbage. Add chopped parsley and walnuts.
Dressing: Combine juice of one lemon, salt, and dijon in a small bowl, and stir to dissolve salt. Add the oil, and stir vigorously to combine. Pour over salad, toss well, and crunch.
*Note: I don't julienne much of anything. Too tedious, too time-consuming. But apples are fast and easy and not at all like carrots, even with a cranky toddler tangled between both feet.
All there is to it: Set apple on board, then slice a thin disc, 1/4" or so, from one "cheek". Continue slicing in toward the core, until you reach the core casing. You'll get 4-5 progressively larger discs, depending on the size of your apple. Rotate your apple a quarter turn, and repeat on next "cheek". Repeat twice more, until you have nothing but a square core remaining. Now, stack 4-5 discs atop each other, flat side down, and simply slice left to right, every 1/4" or so. Voila: julienned apple. Step 1 to step 2, in two minutes, tops.
With special thanks to Julia, for the puddle-jumping pictures.