Hello everyone, and welcome back to Prix Fixed, Lifehacker’s menu-planning advice column.
Today’s email comes to us from way down south, as in the southern hemisphere:
I recently joined a new book club and I am hosting for the first time. Due to the Venn diagram of everyone’s dietary restrictions, everything must be vegetarian, dairy-free, and gluten-free, although eggs are fine. Meeting these restrictions just for a casual weeknight dinner is no problem, but I’d like to think I’m a pretty good home cook and had my heart set on showing off a little. I’m having a tough time coming up with a main dish. I would normally rely on a fancy roast or seafood pasta as an exciting centrepiece, but those won’t work here obviously. Risotto is a no-go because I’ll need to be up and about attending to my guests and can’t babysit the risotto. Some stuff I can make or at least prep the day before or earlier in the day would be great. I’d like to have a main, a salad, and another side I think? Also, I’m in the southern hemisphere, and it will be winter here, so ideally nothing that relies too much on summer produce. I hope you can help me!
Thanks ever so much,
(name withheld so I can take all the credit when everyone compliments my menu-planning)
First of all, I want to apologise for getting to this particular request so late. The emailer had told me they were hosting the first week of July, which we are firmly in, so I sincerely hope that I’m not too late with this. (If I am, file it away for the next time you host, and please feel free to send me an angry email, chastising me for my tardiness.)
Alright, let’s get down to it. Even though I am an omnivore with a penchant for roasting, smoking, and eating lots of pork, I also love cooking for vegans. It’s easy to hide subpar skills behind bacon, cheese, and butter, but truly skilled cooks know how to make vegetables and other animal-free foods sing. It’s very lucky for me, however, that this meal is taking place in the southern hemisphere, because it’s cold there, and cold weather calls for smothered cabbage.
Smothered cabbage is a recipe from A.A. Newton, who recently went vegan, but has always loved vegetables. This recipe is cheap, easy, and mostly hands-off, which means it won’t distract you from hosting and entertaining. You might be tempted to get fancy with the cabbage — but don’t! This recipe is best when made with the common green boy.
We’re also going to make a delicious dip from a humble can of artichokes, as well as a vibrant radicchio salad (for colour and crunch). Yes, it’s a lot of leaves, but bitter, crispy radicchio is very different from sweet, melted cabbage.
But before you can cook, you must shop.
- A roughly 1 kg head of humble green cabbage
- 1 head of radicchio
- 1 medium onion
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 lemon
- 1 400g can artichoke hearts or bottoms in brine (bottoms are less stringy, so grab those if you can find them)
- Apple cider vinegar
- Maple syrup
- Dijon mustard
- 2 types of gluten-free crackers (get something thin and crips and something thick and seedy)
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh sage
- 1 package pecan pieces (at least a cup)
- Olives and pickles of your choice
Pantry items you probably have but might have to buy:
- Olive oil (You’ll need a good bit, so grab a fresh bottle if you’re getting low)
Now that we have our ingredients, it’s time to cook. If you want, you can make the artichoke spread the day before. This spread is surprisingly creamy and packed with artichoke flavour, but you do have to perk ‘em up a bit with a little salt, fat, and heat. To make approximately one cup of delicious artichoke spread, you will need:
- 1/4-1/2 cup flavorful oil of olive oil
- 1 400g can artichoke hearts or bottoms in brine, drained
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or other acidic ingredient
- 1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
- Salt to taste
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s nice and hot, add the drained artichokes and garlic cloves. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are caramelised around the edges.
Scrape the contents of the skillet into a blender, or whatever container you usually use with your stick blender. Pour the lemon juice or vinegar into the empty skillet, scrape up any stuck-on brown bits, and add that to the blender too. Add the mustard and purée the mixture until you have a slightly lumpy, grayish-yellow paste. It will look gross at this point, but don’t worry, the oil will smooth things out.
With the motor running, drizzle in 1/4 cup of oil, and purée until totally smooth. If it seems a bit too thick, gradually add up to 1/4 cup more oil and purée until you reach the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately (if you are making it right before the meeting) or transfer it to a covered container and store it in the fridge until your fellow readers arrive. Serve with the thin and crisp gluten-free crackers, the pickles, and the olives.
Two hours before your friends are scheduled to arrive, start prepping the cabbage. First, gather your ingredients. To make this wildly comforting, yet startlingly simple dish, you will need:
- A roughly 1 kg head of green cabbage, with any tough, wilted outer leaves removed
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt, plus more to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- Plenty of freshly-cracked black pepper
- 1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Lemon wedges to serve
Preheat oven to 160C. Pour the olive oil into a large Dutch oven (or other large, heavy pot with a lid); add the onions and half a teaspoon of salt and cook over medium heat until soft and light golden brown, at least 20 minutes.
As the onions cook, slice the cabbage in half through the core and remove it by making wedge-shaped cuts in each half; if the exposed end of the core is dry and woody, trim it off and discard. Finely chop whatever’s left of the core and add to the pot to cook with the onions and oil. Shred the cabbage leaves as finely as you can, and set them aside.
When the onions and cabbage core have gotten nice and brown, stir in the garlic and plenty of black pepper. Let them sizzle for about a minute, until the garlic barely starts to brown and the pepper is super fragrant, then add the shredded cabbage leaves. Stir and toss gently to coat every single shred of cabbage with oil. Add the vinegar and another big pinch of salt, stir again, and cover the pot.
Transfer the pot to the oven and roast for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or more) stirring once or twice. The end product should be meltingly soft, sweet, and caramelised at the edges; keep cooking until it looks and tastes how you want.
When you have about half an hour left on the cabbage, make the salad. To do that, you will need:
- 1 cup pecan pieces
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 small sage leaves, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 small head of radicchio
Toast the pecan pieces in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are warm and fragrant (about five minutes). Set aside. To make the dressing, combine the remaining ingredients in a sealable jar and shake until emulsified. The dressing can be kept in the fridge for about a week.
If you’ve made the dressing ahead of time, take it out of the fridge about an hour before dinner, and give it a good shake to make sure everything gets evenly redistributed. Wash and dry the radicchio and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces.
Once the cabbage is soft, sweet, and caramelised, give it a little taste and adjust with more salt and lemon if needed. Serve with lemon wedges and the thick and seedy gluten-free crackers. Drizzle the dressing on the salad, sprinkle on the pecan pieces, and serve with extra of each on the side. It’s a lot of leaves, but these leaves are at wildly different ends of the flavour spectrum. Bitter and sweet, crisp and soft, colourful and beige — you get it all with this particular combination.