A History of Cabbage

“Kål” is our new cookbook. It’s the result of Peter’s creativity in the kitchen, Asmus’s curiosity for the history of farming and our shared love for cabbage. Here’s a little taste of the book – our thoughts and a couple of our recipes:

“On a field somewhere on the peninsula Sjællands Odde in the North of Zealand, Denmark, a farmer harvests the first crispy curly kale of the year. It’s October, autumn has begun, and it’s been six months since the kale was sown. It’s right here, on the field, where the great quality battle is fought. The farmer is the captain who sows, nurses and harvest the crispy kale. He works from morning to evening and delivers the produce that makes it possible to cook. And it’s at this point that we get to have a say. The chef and the historian.  Our teamwork began mostly by coincidence, but with a mutual love for produce, food – and cabbage. Peter, the vegetable enthusiast and well-travelled chef, who has cooked from east to west. And Asmus, the historian, who really specialised in cheese and sour cherries, but who generally cares a great deal about all achieves with farming anecdotes and descriptions that go further back than our short memories.

There are many reasons for our dedication to cabbage. Cabbage can be found in a vast number of sorts and variations, it’s tasteful, beautiful and in season almost all year round, and on top of all this, it’s cheap and accessible to everyone. In the kitchen, cabbage offers endless possibilities as well. It can be boiled, baked and roasted. Sautéed, steamed and blanched. And braised, salt-baked and pickled.

When you look at any given subject over a long period of time, you’ll spot changes. Big and small. That’s what history is capable of, and it’s the same with cabbage. Not only has the look of cabbage changed a lot through time, but so has the way we prepare and grow the vegetable, its significance to us and, not least, how it tastes.

The ability of cabbage to survive frost and its toughness has made it a crucial source of fresh vegetables during the winter long before the fridge. It has been an integral part of the historical kitchen gardens through centuries, and it was eaten week after week all year. The cabbage garden [which was the common name for the farmer’s kitchen garden] was even mentioned in the heavy Danish Statute books like Jyske Lov from 1241.

When we in this book go back in time, it is important that we keep one thing in mind: The historical food culture is affected by an infinite line of local variations.

Cabbage was most likely prepared in a different way in Brovst than in Silkeborg. It’s the nuances that are interesting. They show that food culture changes. And thus, that food culture can be changed.”

 

Raw red cabbage with peanut sauce, grape and ceviche of cod

ceviche

Starter, 4 ps.

Peanut sauce

350 g coconut milk

50 g red curry paste

1 dl unsweetened peanut butter

1 dl sugar

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar

½ dl water

300 g cod back

2 large grapefruits

3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

8 large red cabbage leaves

2 tbsp chopped peanuts

2 small red onions

1 Put all the ingredients for the peanut sauce in a pot and let it boil at a low temperature in 3-4 minutes while you keep stirring. Put the sauce in a bowl and let it cool down to room temperature.

2 Cut the cod back in thin slices, spread it out on an oven dish, and spread the juice from one of the grapefruits over the fish. Do the same with the olive oil, and put a piece of foil or baking paper closely over the fish. Put it in the fridge until an hour before serving.

3 Cut out the last grapefruit into fillets and cut the red onions in paper thin slices. Cut the red cabbage to smaller bites.

4 Remember to take the cod from the fridge a while before you’ll serve the dish so it isn’t too cold. Serve it with the peanut sauce, red onions, grape and red cabbage leaves. Sprinkle chopped peanuts as the last finish.

 

Steamed pointed cabbage with hazelnut mayo and oyster marinade

hasselnoed

Starter, 4 ps.

2 egg yolks

3 dl hazelnut oil

1 tbsp champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

4-6 big oysters of good quality

1 dl hazelnuts

1 shallot

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

4 tbsp olive oil of good quality

1 pointed cabbage

4 stems of dill

1 Put the egg yolks in a small bowl. Add champagne vinegar and some salt and pepper. Use a whisk or a hand mixer and add the hazelnut oil in a slow, thin stream. First a few drops at the time and then a little more until you have thick and creamy mayonnaise. Taste it with salt and pepper, and maybe a little extra vinegar – but be careful it doesn’t become too acidic.

2 Open the oysters and smell each one carefully. They should smell salty and fresh. Pour the oyster liquor through a sieve into a bowl. Roughly chop the oysters and put them in the bowl with the liquor. Finely chop the shallot with a sharp knife and add it to the bowl of oysters together with the apple cider vinegar and olive oil.

3 Roast the hazelnuts on a dry pan until they get a little colour. Then roughly chop them.

4 Cut the pointed cabbage in 4 pieces of equal size. Put them in a pot which is big enough for all the pieces to touch the bottom of the pot, so they don’t stack. Add 1 dl water and a little salt. Steam the cabbage at medium heat under a lid for 4-5 minutes until it’s tender, but the stem still crispy.

5 Pluck the leaves of the dill off and finely chop the stems.

6 Use a spoon to spread the oyster marinade into all the leaves of the cabbage. Finish by spreading the chopped nuts, dill stems and dill leaves onto the cabbage, and serve with the mayonnaise.

 

Broccoli puree, pan-roasted new garlic and cockles

hjertemusling

Starter, 4 ps.

1 kg cockles or blue mussels

1 broccoli

100 g butter

1 big new garlic

1 small bundle of parsley

1 lemon

Broccoli and garlic taste great together and the combination is an Italian classic. For this dish, it is important that the garlic is new and fresh as it will otherwise become too dominant.

1 Start by washing the cockles thoroughly in ice-cold water, and make sure to throw out any broken and open ones. If in doubt, try to knock them against the table – if they close, they are fine to eat.

2 Cut the broccoli into small florets. Peel the stem and roughly chop it. Dice the butter into cubes of 1×1 cm and put it back in the fridge.

3 Heat up a large pot of water and salt, just like if you were to cook pasta. Blanch the chopped stem until it’s tender. Put the pieces in a blender with the parsley and a bit of the water from the pot. Blend it until the puree is soft and even. Spread a thin layer of the puree on a plate and cool it in the fridge, so it doesn’t lose it’s fine green colour. Blanch the broccoli florets as well for just a minute or two – so they don’t lose their bite.

4 Heat up a large pot at highest temperature. Add the cockles and cover with a lid right away. There are plenty of water in the cockles for them to steam in the own liquor. Steam for about 10 minutes until they are open and cooked. Pick them up, remove them from their shells and leave them to cool on a plate in the fridge.

5 Sift the stock from the pot into a small saucepan. About 1 dl is enough for 4 persons. If there is more left, try boiling it down a little. Add a couple of tablespoons of lemon.

6 Break up the garlic into cloves. Roast them, slow and steady, on a pan until they are brown and tender.

7 Warm up the puree in a small pot. Reboil the cockle brine and add the butter dices, just a couple at the time, and whip with a hand blender until it starts to foam. Be careful not to boil the sauce too hard as it will make it break.

8 Warm up the cockles carefully in the sauce. Serve on a plate or a dish with a slice of whole grain bread.

Not enough cabbage for you? Get your hands on the book here (Note: it’s in Danish)

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Peter Nøhr & Asmus Jensen

Peter Nøhr & Asmus Jensen

Head Chef & Historian, KOST

Democratic gastronomy.

Asmus & Peter's other stories

Thou shall eat the old

An ancient discussion about terroir and taste

The Extinction of Cabbage