I wonder if all of us who cook bring a certain amount of nostalgia to the process. There are the dishes we remember from our childhood, those homey, cozy recipes that nothing can beat when it comes to comfort food. They are the staples of our family’s cooking repertoire that we come back to when we want a taste of home. And they satisfy, time and time again.
As a reluctant foodie, one who embodies the love of food that the term inhabits but chaffs at the title, I love chasing the next trend as much as the next enthusiastic eater. But it is the food of my youth and family heritage that intrigues me more than any.
Outside Oslo has long been a means of discovery, a place where I can record and share what I’ve uncovered as I’ve explored the cuisine of Norway and its neighboring countries. I’ve featured some of my own family’s stories and recipes as well. Something I’ve discovered in the process is the value of hanging onto elements of the past as we move forward with the future. So much of a place’s history is evidenced in its cuisine; once you know a little bit about both, you can start seeing the correlation between the two. The same goes with family history. I love rummaging through my grandma Adeline’s old recipe boxes and her notebooks full of handwritten recipes. Through her handwriting and those of her friends and relatives, I find treasures that are priceless, and I am grateful that she has given me her collection now that she no longer cooks alone. Those recipes are filled with her stories and memories. Each time I get together with her to bake, I uncover little snippets of her life as she talks.
With all this about nostalgia in cooking, perhaps it won’t take much effort for me to convince you of the merits of writing about something as seemingly “anti-gourmet” as boiled cabbage on a food blog. To be honest, I wouldn’t have given this preparation a thought until I read about it in Nigel Slater’s Tender last week. In two paragraphs, this talented chef and author transformed my idea of boiled cabbage from a limp, soggy, tasteless mess into something luscious, incredibly simple, and comforting. Upon preparing it as a quick side dish for a weeknight meal, I was reminded of something deep in my past that I haven’t thought about for years: the steamed cabbage my mom used to make when I was growing up. I can’t remember the last time she made it, and I had forgotten how satisfying toothsome and nourishing it tasted. I guess some foods go out of fashion in families just like they do with global food trends. After rediscovering this though, I’ll be keeping it in my own cooking repertoire.
The key, I think, is in watching the cabbage carefully and removing it from the water at precisely the right moment. With a pat of butter, a sprinkling of salt, and some chopped fresh dill, the cabbage has a warm, thick yet silky quality and the flavors that any Norwegian would appreciate.
Boiled Cabbage with Butter and Dill
Inspired by Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater and many meals of my childhood
1/2 head cabbage
1-2 tablespoons salted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and liberally add salt. Meanwhile, slice cabbage into 1 1/2- to 2-inch-wide pieces and separate the leaves. Drop them in the water and cook just until the color begins to brighten and the cabbage softens slightly. This will take just a couple of minutes. Immediately remove the cabbage with a slotted spoon or sieve and allow to drain for a moment in a colander. Divide between two plates and top each serving with a pat of butter, a sprinkling of dill, and salt to taste. Serve immediately while still hot.
Note: Please don’t even consider making this in advance and reheating at serving time; fresh from the pot is best. Due to the quick preparation, it’s easy to prepare this recipe right before going to the table. If you’re preparing a meat dish that needs to rest, you can easily make the cabbage in those last few minutes as long as you have a pot of water boiling in advance.