By Steve Petusevsky
Sun-Sentinel, South Florida
Stuffed cabbage has Irish flavor St. Patrick's Day is almost here, but don't fret. I'll spare you the traditional green beer and corned beef. In fact, there's debate whether corned beef and cabbage is actually a traditional Irish meal. Food historians think it is an American tradition.
The Irish are more likely to eat the vegetarian colcannon (boiled new potatoes mixed with boiled white cabbage, boiled leeks or boiled onions with butter, milk and garlic).
Cabbage has sustained many cultures. It has been cultivated for nearly 2,500 years, probably first in the eastern Mediterranean. It was quite popular with ancient Greeks and Romans. During the Middle Ages, farmers started cultivating tight compact cabbage heads, the ones we are familiar with today. This sturdy variety can survive in any climate, which is why it became such an important vegetable. People who had very little to eat could depend on cabbage to sustain them.
Cabbage is also a member of the cruciferous vegetable family that includes broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. This group of vegetables is one of the best cancer fighters and also contains considerable amounts of vitamin C and fiber. Researchers believe that plant-based chemicals called indoles, that you get in cabbage, contain lots of nitrogen compounds, which play a protective role in our immune systems.
Although there are hundreds of varieties of cabbage, most of us are familiar with three types: green, red and savoy. Savoy cabbage, commonly available in most produce sections, has a dark green leaf with ruffles. The leaves are less compact and the head is reminiscent of iceberg lettuce.
As I started digging into unusual vegetarian Saint Patrick's Day recipes, I came across a dish for cabbage that uses the halved and hollowed head to hold a stuffing of basmati rice, curry and monterey jack cheese. I really like the fact that the sweet cabbage is not masked by an acidic tomato sauce.
The Pot of Gold Cabbage is a hearty peasant recipe baked in it's own container. The starch from tender basmati rice gives the stuffing body and holds things together. You can add 2 cups of your favorite protein to the cabbage stuffing such as bite-sized pieces of tofu, tempeh or seitan. The cabbage halves can be fully prepared and stuffed, and refrigerated for up to two days before baking.
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Pot of Gold Cabbage
1 cup uncooked basmati rice
2 cups water or vegetable broth, plus more for steaming
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 large head green cabbage
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 large tomato, chopped
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese
1 ½ tablespoons chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rice in a 2 ½-quart saucepan with the 2 cups water or vegetable broth, curry powder and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover pot tightly, reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes until rice is tender, golden in color and all liquid is absorbed.
Meanwhile, cut cabbage in half vertically, leaving core intact. Remove enough of inner leaves, including part of core, to make a large well in each half. (Leaving core end intact will help hold cabbage together while cooking.) You can steam inner leaves along with cabbage halves and save for another purpose.
In a large pot over boiling water, steam cabbage in a steamer basket 12 to 15 minutes until firm but nicely wilted. Remove from steamer and place on a baking pan.
In a large non-reactive bowl, combine cooked rice, corn, tomatoes and 1 cup cheese. Mix well. Mound rice mixture evenly into cabbage halves. Sprinkle each with ¼ cup cheese. Place on a baking dish and bake 20 minutes until heated through and cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle each with parsley. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 476 calories, 29 percent calories from fat, 19 grams protein, 66 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams total fiber, 15 grams total fat, 44 milligrams cholesterol, 919 milligrams sodium.
(Steve Petusevsky is a contributing editor to Cooking Light magazine and national director of creative food development for Whole Foods.)
© 2001 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.