April 25, 2006
Cabbage Gratin with Cheddar and Mustard Seeds

I really like Barret's recipe for Cabbage and Lentil Salad. It was one of the first of his recipes that I tried myself and in fact I believe it was the first recipe he posted on this site. I've even reviewed it. It's a tangy, healthy salad and the flavours stand up well to the strong earthy flavours of a leafy savoy cabbage. The only snag? One half a head is a lot of salad, especially when you are the only cabbage eater in the family. The second half of the cabbage sits in the vegetable bin, staring up at me reproachfully for the next three weeks every time I open the refrigerator. It takes up a lot of space, but because cabbage can keep for a good long while in a vegetable bin, I can't justify throwing it away.

So with the Critic away in Canada this week, I've set myself the task of experimenting with vegetables and started with the long-lasting cabbage. I flicked through my two vegetarian cookbooks first and then tried the Fannie Farmer, the Brits and even the Indian cookbook. In the end, I opted for a dish from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Except that, being me, I jazzed it up.

The result was pretty tasty. If you are a cabbage hater, it probably won't convert you. But if you are a cabbage lover (and in need of a lot of folic acid...Barbara?) you will undoubtedly like it.

The cheddar and the mustard seeds were my twist on the Madison recipe. I wasn't in the mood for an experimenting with egg, cream and tomato paste - it just didn't appeal. But mustard seed is lovely with cabbage, stands up well to that overpowering flavour. And cheddar is a natural with both the cabbage family (such as broccoli) and with mustard. I have also been on a bit of a mustard seed kick lately: I love the crunch of those tiny round seeds.

To my surprise, not only did I like the gratin, but the mini-Critic did too. He didn't do his lean-foward-mouth-open-while-saying-EHHHHH thing like he does for baked beans on toast, but he ate a good 3/4 of a cup of it. And that's good vitamins; I was happy.

Cabbage Gratin with Cheddar and Mustard Seeds

Butter and bread crumbs for the dish (about a tablespoon of each)
1 1/2 pounds green or Savoy cabbage, sliced (about half a large head)
1/3 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup creme fraiche
3 eggs
170 grams grated sharp cheddar cheese (or more - that was all I had but I think the recipe could take more if you like your cheddar and have the wherewithal)
half a dozen mushrooms
1 small onion
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs mustar seeds
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper - generous sprinkling of each

Preheat the oven to 375F/180C. Butter a souffle or gratin dish and coat the sides with the bread crumbs.

Melt the 2 Tbs butter in a deep frying pan and add the onion, sliced in thin half rounds. While the onions are cooking, clean and slice the mushrooms. Add them to the pan and soften them. Add the mustard seed and cook for a moment or two on a slightly higher heat. Add the cabbage, stir and cover. I added about a third of a cup of boiling water from the kettle to speed up the cooking process when, after a few minutes, the cabbage did not seem to be wilting. The recipe calls for plunging it in salted boiling water for five minutes: you can choose your method but the idea is to get it at least partially cooked before constructing the gratin.

Remove the cabbage, mushroom and onion mixture to a bowl. In the remaining butter, stir the flour until incorporated. If there isn't enough butter left, you can add another tablespoon or two. (The recipe is vegetarian; I never claimed it was fat-free!) Slowly add the milk, whisking rapidly to avoid lumps. Stir in the cheese and continue stirring until smooth and slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and add the creme fraiche. In the measuring cup you used for the milk (for example) beat the eggs lightly. Add a bit of the warm cheese sauce to the eggs. Then pour the eggs into the cheese sauce. Stir well with the whisk.

Plop the cabbage and mushroom mixture in the gratin dish and pour the egg and cheese mixture over it. Sprinkle the top with the parmesan and bake until set and browned on the top: about 30 minutes.

Serve warm with a hearty red and crusty bread. It really is a very satisfying dish, though when I sat down to finish the leftovers the next day I was starting to feel glad about seeing the end of that cabbage. The Boy, as mentioned, thought it was a perfectly respectable dinner.

Bring on the peas, asparagus, beans, tomatoes and all those other vegetables we haven't seen in this long, damp winter!

A note on the lack of photos: I foolishly volunteered to help with the desktop publishing of a book being produced by the mothers group I belong to in Paris and they have yet to get my laptop back to me. Until they do, photos are difficult. But you know what cabbage looks like, right?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at April 25, 2006 2:20 PM Print-friendly version

I had the same problem with my second cabbage half. The Redhead hates coleslaws and I didn't have any good ideas for the second half of the head.

And now, I do. Nice recipe.

Posted by barrett on April 25, 2006 at 3:07 PM

Oooh. That sounds really, really good, Meg. Thanks!

I've been good--been eating lots and lots of greens (and kimchee!) and taking my prenatal vitamins (which smell funny and are hard to swallow) as well as extra folic acid supplements!

But--I may have to make a wee gratin dish of this for myself, as neither Zak nor Morganna will touch cabbage. Infidels.

Posted by Barbara on April 26, 2006 at 10:03 PM

Well, actually, Barbara, I was never in any doubt after reading your posts about whether you were getting your vitamins! But it did make me think of you - when I was pregnant I was terrible about remembering to take those big horse pill supplements, so I tried hard to get lots of greens!

Posted by Meg on April 27, 2006 at 4:25 AM

Oh, and definitely take a look at Barrett's salad, which is fantastic. In fact, it has lentils, which ALSO have folic acid!

Can you OD on that good stuff?? ; )

Posted by Meg on April 27, 2006 at 4:30 AM
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