Four hours to cook a small white cabbage? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. This works both as a stand-alone starter or as a side for meal. I like it as a deeply flavoured mid afternoon snack too, but then our snacks are usually a little unusual. It is a wintery dish, but don’t let that prevent you from cooking it in the cooler weather of other seasons.
This dish is an Ottolenghi dish, from his Guardian column. First published four years ago, he speaks of it often as an amazing example of the transformation of food during the process of cooking. It is something that always enthralled me, in fact it is the basis of my love of cooking. The way that an ingredient changes from one thing to another as a result of little
more than the application of time and heat, it really is magic. We take it for granted: we sweat an onion in oil, for example, and it changes from something that makes us cry to something that makes us smile with joy at its brilliantly warming sweetness. Each time we throw the acrid, dung-scented spice asafoetida into some oil, it changes to an earthy taste of garlic and onions. We pop mustard seeds in heated oil and they lose their hot intensiveness and become nutty.
And we braise cabbage for 4 hours for this remarkable result. It doesn’t look like a vegetarian dish, in fact it looks quite meaty. But vegetarian it is. It does need a strong dish to accompany it, or something very bland. I have been serving it just with a little plain rice, lemon and soured cream.