The other day one of my neighbors asked me how often I cook. I think he was curious to know if I cook everyday. But, now that I think of it, I'm not actually sure what he was asking me - maybe there was a subtext to the question? I'm not sure. Anyhow, I told him I cook most days, and most of the meals most days. While this might have kicked off visions of elaborate brunch buffets, or of me standing over simmering pots of risotto stirring for hours on end, actually, it usually means I'm doing something simple like reheating a leftover pot of soup for lunch. Or pouring some muesli from a jar into a bowl of yogurt. Other times it does mean starting from scratch, pulling together a quick everyday favorite.
But(!) at least a few times a week I like to try something completely new, something I've never tried before. Sometimes it's my own idea, other times the recipe comes from elsewhere. For example, I came across a Warm Red Cabbage Salad with Dried Fruit and Feta in the new Complete Tassajara Cookbook I bought a few weeks back. I liked the idea of a warm winter salad - sweet and salty, rich with color, texture, and flavor. I was excited to give it a go.
I used the recipe as a jumping off point, tweaking it to my preferences. I cooked the cabbage uncovered, and for less time than the recipe called for (to retain a bit of structure), used considerably smaller amounts of cheese and fruit, and generally trusted my own instincts and tastes along the way. You can use my version of it as your own jumping off point, and play around with it to suit your tastes as well.
Some things I thought about along the way - I used golden raisins, but I imagine any number of dried fruits would work nicely. A few toasted walnuts or hazelnuts tossed in the pan at the last minute might be a welcome way to up the crunch factor. A bit of cabbage used to top off a bowl of risotto or polenta might be striking. Or as a filling for a piadine. Or how about using it as the finishing touch on a savory spinach tart? A recipe like this one can launch me in a hundred different directions.
So, when I think about how often I cook, I naturally think about why I rarely get tired of cooking. And I think it's because I find the task endlessly challenging and continually inspiring. A bit of a rhythm has emerged through it all - it goes something like this: old, new, me, you. Meaning - I cook an old favorite one night, next I might explore a technique or region that is entirely new to me, then maybe I'll try out an idea of my own, and then a recipe I've learned about in a book, magazine, website, or from a friend - like this one.
And I have to say, it's rhythm that works for me. Despite the hours I spend cooking, I still enjoy pulling my apron over my head, tying the knot behind my back, turning the knob on the stove and hearing the whoosh of the flame catch on the gas burner...
Tassajara Warm Red Cabbage Salad
I've incorporated all my changes into this version the recipe, originally adapted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook. This version is less cheesy, fruity, and rich - but feel free to experiment with the components in this salad until it is to your liking.
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
fine grain sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 pound head of red cabbage or radicchio, quartered and cut into thin ribbons
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
2 ounces golden raisins (or other plump, chopped dried fruit)
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to garnish
Roast the sunflower seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Sprinkle on the sugar, and a couple pinches of salt. Stir until the sugar melts and coats the seeds (you pan will need to be hot enough). Transfer the seeds immediately to a plate so they don't stick to the pan. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and saute the onion for a minutes or two with a couple pinches of salt. Stir in the garlic, and the cabbage, and a few more pinches of salt. Stir and cook for just a minute or so, or until the cabbage softens up just a touch. Then stir in the rosemary, most of the raisins, and the vinegar. The cabbage will continue to get more and more tender even after you remove it from the heat, so keep that in mind, and do your best to avoid overcooking it - where it collapses entirely. Fold in half of the feta cheese, most of the sunflower seeds, then taste. Season with more salt if needed. Serve garnished with the remaining raisins, feta, sunflower seeds and Parmesan cheese.
Serves 4 to 6.
This recipe was adapted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown. Published by Shambhala (September 8, 2009)
Prep time: 10 minutes - Cook time: 10 minutes