Unfolding a cabbage

Unfolding a cabbage

Aylin Öneytan - aylin.tan@hdn.com.tr
Unfolding a cabbage Cabbage must be one of the most underrated vegetables. Even fanatic admirers of cabbage don’t place it among the high-ranking delicacies of the culinary world. However, most of the traditional cabbage dishes are indeed very, very tasty. Being a staple food in many of the world cuisines, the humble cabbage is a very versatile vegetable. Layer by layer cabbage leaves can offer a variety of delicious ways to savor the healthy treat and also reveal some of the many mysteries cabbage contains.

Cabbage, known as lahana in Turkish, is not the most widely used vegetable in Turkey, but it has its place on winter tables. Wrapped into delicately sweet and soft fragrant olive oil rolls with the name zeytinyağlı lahana sarma, or pickled into a fiery crunch as lahana turşusu, cabbage appears in various forms in Turkish cuisine. One of the most popular Turkish cabbage dishes are meat-filled wraps known as lahana sarması or lahana dolması that have spread around the world reaching as far as Kåldolmar in Sweden, Töltött Káposzta in Hungary and all over the Balkans as sarma or sarmale. The Swedish cabbage roll is thought to be the legacy of King Charles XII of Sweden, who probably picked up a taste for the dish while in exile for two years in Moldavia, which was then a part of Ottoman Empire. He was provided with a cook and kitchen staff by the Ottoman court during his stay in Ottoman lands. When he eventually made his way back home, he was followed by his Ottoman creditors hoping to get money they had lent to the exiled king back. They stayed in Stockholm between 1716 and 1732, quite a long time to wait for money to be returned. In the meantime the cabbage rolls were probably introduced to Swedish national cuisine. Their first mention was written by Cajsa Ward, a famous Swedish food writer, in his cookbook written in 1755.

The word lahana comes from the Greek word, lákhanon, which simply means any edible green or vegetable. Another widely used name in Anatolia kelem is also the word for cabbage in Perisan and Turkoman language. Probably it stems from Turkic languages, but it is interesting that many Turkic countries have happily adopted the Russian name káposzta for cabbage. The Russian name is reflected in Turkey in a very typical cabbage dish, kapuska, a hearty winter stew with minced meat. In Greece the cabbage is attributed with divine qualities. According to legend, the cabbage is related to the Greek god Zeus. It is believed that the plant sprang up when the sweat of Zeus dropped to the ground, explaining the somewhat disturbing smell and earthy taste. Ancient Greeks did not yet have the big head white cabbage, which is a later evolution, but did grow loose-leaf varieties. Pythagoras and Cato strongly recommended it and Diogenes lived on a cabbage diet till he died at the age of 90. His long and healthy life might be an inspiration for those that follow the cabbage diet. Cabbage is surely choc-full of a very healthy supply of nutrients. It is one of the few veggies that are accepted as nutraceutical, containing a good supply of isothiocyanate, which helps prevent cancer.

Actually, this health boosting quality of cabbage might be the unrevealed secret of the first ever sports team in the Ottoman period, the legendary Lahanacılar, the cabbage eaters named after the cabbage growing town of Merzifon. Originally created for training warriors, this sports team was the deadly rival of Bamyacılar, the okra eaters. No wonder cabbage gave them formidable strength. They were supported fanatically by the Sultan Selim III, who even wrote a poem to his beloved team.

Bite of the Week: For a tasty cabbage kapuska with spicy twist, fry 3-4 onions with a table spoon each of caraway seeds and coriander in butter or vegetable oil, incorporate a tablespoon each of tomato, sweet pepper and hot pepper pastes, roughly chop a small head of cabbage and add to onions. Stir fry a while, when cabbages are slightly limp add enough water to reach to the level of the cabbage. Cover and cook until done and cooking liquid has totally reduced. Instead of caraway, also try using whole cumin seeds. Serve with a good dollop of garlic yoghurt.

Bite of the week

Cork of the Week
I find beer very satisfying with cabbage stews. Try the newly launched Efes Malt beer with a hoppy and earthy finish that will make a hearty accompaniment to any spicy stew.

Fork of the Week
Pickled cabbage is a must on winter tables. Özcan Turşuları in Kadıköy market makes the most crisp crunchy cabbage pickle. You can even find pickled whole heads of cabbage divided in halves, but not chopped. The nice thing is you can slice or chop this whole pickles according to your liking. When there, also try their spicy pinky pickle juice with big chunks of the crunch. Here you’ll also find the perfect tomato and pepper pastes for your cabbage stew.