I wonder if the humble cabbage knows what people think of him. Does he, for instance know that perceivably, he leads the most humdrum existence in their minds? He is the one mostly relegated to the role of ‘roughage” when someone is having a not so easy time on the pot. Worse, he represents all things prison-like and sickly, like cabbage soup in Dickensonian novels.
The cabbage is perhaps one vegetable that sits in the vegetable tray in every refrigerator, waiting his turn to be cooked, or at least blended with other vegetables in a sabzi, dal, salad, or act as carrier for coleslaw on his lucky day.
Unlike its distant cousin, the cauliflower which has ascended into a vegetable of great merit, a modicum of glamour and individuality, the cabbage remains characterless and insipid. It has no sex appeal whatsoever, and to top it all, it is always cheap and affordable. (I am not referring to the purple and red ones here that cost an arm)
In most households, a cabbage is a binder, either thrown it in with a few other veggies like potatoes, peas, capsicum, or cauliflower when there isn’t enough volume, or added an after thought in a salad. I find it intriguing that the cabbage has very few secrets despite having so many layers.
My dad had his way of balancing the tartiness of a sambar with the genteelness of cabbage. Except that he did it differently from anyone else I know. “It should be crunchy and green, so you have to cook it just right..” he would say. He did nothing to it except a tempering of mustard and udid dal, a few green chillies, slit vertically and gently crushed.” The garnish with coconut kind of nailed it, but is entirely optional.
By sheer accident, I too found ways in which the cabbage redeemed itself.. and even if you are not an aficionado, they are worth a try
Cabbage and carrot salad
Finely chopped cabbage: one cup
Grated carrots: half cup
Juice of one lemon
Green chillies, julienned
Finely chop the cabbage (julienne looks better) and grate the carrots.
Mix well in a bowl, add salt and a few grains of sugar, squeeze the juice of one lemon and set aside.
For the tempering:
Splutter mustard seeds in a kadhai, add a pinch of hing and the slit green chillies and pour the tempering over the salad mix. Mix well. Serve chilled, after half an hour, when the juices mix well.
Tur dal: one cup
Chana dal: one cup
Udid dal: half cup
Half a head of a small cabbage, chopped
Ginger: a small piece
Onion: one medium, chopped
Salt to taste
Soak the dals for a few hours and grind to a coarse paste with chillies, curry leaves, ginger, adding just enough water.
Add the chopped cabbage and onions to this dal mixture, and then add salt, mix well.
Shape into small balls and deep fry.