Cruciferous crusader

June 13, 2011

Does anyone else find themselves eating significantly more meat in winter?

Sydney weather has turned utterly miserable in the last little while –  freezing temperatures, wild winds and absolutely bucketing rain. It’s fantastic cooking weather so long as you have a well-stocked pantry and fridge, because going out into the rain to forage is vile. I’ve been on a pastry roll (boom tish) during the past week, as I’m determined to improve my competence in that department and have done some experimenting with blind-baking pie bases versus not doing so, with gratifying results, which I’ll post about soon.

But while this weather is perfect for pastry and all that comes with it – rich meat pies, chicken and mushroom pies and so on – the downside to all this is of course the stodge factor, the high meat factor, and the accompanying risk of increasing boombalahdism.

So my challenge in the next while is to find some hearty and delicious winter dishes that depend more on vegetables than meat. I’m happy to notch up the carbs for a bit, because it just feels right to load up a little for winter, but having worked hard to lose some weight in the first half of the year, I would rather not blow all that by going too crazy with the carbs and fat and meat for the next few months.

Enter the humble Brassica family.

My favourite thing of last week was a cabbage accompaniment to some very good pork chops – an old Jamie Oliver number I posted about way back in the early days of this blog. It’s a delicious fatfest – pork, pears, potatoes and parsnip – and needs a sharp accompaniment to balance all that sweetness and stodge.

Cabbage is one of my favourite overlooked ingredients. I think we can all hark back to childhood for some reasonably ghastly memories of flabby, colourless boiled cabbage and that sad, defeated smell. But when it’s done well, cabbage can provide a wonderfully sparky lift to a meal I reckon.  And there is also the virtuous cancer-fighting glow that comes from consuming any member of the Brassica family (love that it sounds so like a contemporary primary schoolgirl’s name, except of course the spelling would need some adjustment.  “Brassikah! Come here! We have to go pick up Crucifera from ballet!”)

In the summer just gone I was introduced to an incredibly good shredded cabbage and Parmesan salad by Caro (she of the roasted cherry chutney and many other goodies on this blog), which I will tell you more about some other time. But this not being salady weather, this week I adapted a couple of different recipes to come up with the following side dish. I recommend it.  Oh and please forgive the low photo quality – all this getting dark at 5pm makes good evening photography an impossibility…

Cabbage with caraway and currants

  • olive oil
  • ¼ cup (or less) finely chopped bacon, pancetta or speck
  • 2 French shallots, finely chopped
  • few cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ head of shredded white cabbage
  • ½ cup of cup verjuice
  • large handful currants
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • salt & pepper


  1. Saute the bacon, shallot and garlic in a good splash of oil until soft.
  2. Add the cabbage and stir thoroughly to coat with oil, fry over high heat for a few minutes.
  3. Add the verjuice and stir to mix well.
  4. Add currants and caraway seeds, cover and cook for a few minutes more until cabbage is tender but retains a touch of crunch. Season & serve.

And now I’d love some ideas from you about hearty, warming, non-meat dishes for winter. What are your favourites?


  1. Fiddling with pastry once, I though ‘why not?’ and used a tub of low-fat sour cream with flour. That’s all, two ingredients. It was a delicious pastry, tasting almost like brioche.

  2. Wintry veg lunch or light dinner dish = Brussels Sprouts (no groaning please) cut them in half lengthways, steam cut side down for a couple of minutes in microwave – so they’re still firm but not raw. Get some penne (or similar short pasta) ready, again al dente, not floppy. Finely chop 2-3 juicy garlic cloves, saute gently til transparent (not browning) In a wide pan in a goodly amount of extra-virgin OO, add the sprouts and a shake of dried chilli flakes; make sure the sprouts are well turned and coated with the olive oil and heated through; add the pasta and do the same (add extra oil if necessary, this isn’t the time for being mean); when it’s all glistening and smelling good – 3-5 minutes depending on the size and number of sprouts and amount of pasta, serve into bowls, top with chopped parsley and shaves of parmesan. Eat. Yum. You can substitute broccoli florets if you really don’t like Bsprouts.

    • That sounds delicious. Thanks.

    • Yep, hated BS aaaalways after childhood trauma but I had fantastic luck with a thrown together meal with pasta and sprouts at its centre. Must do it again – it was such a happy accident I’d forgotten it. Thanks for the reminder!

      Charlotte, Buzo does a top cabbage salad, as well as a great veg winter warmer: mushroom lasagne. Also I know I’ve said it before, but Charmaine Solomon’s Vegetarian Cookbook has everything you could ever want in yummy meat-free options in any season.

      • Yes I really do need Charmaine’s book, so many people keep telling me about it, along with Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. On the list!

  3. Saute a chopped onion or two in evoo with some garlic and speck, all chopped. Chilli works at this point, too. Once onion’s transparent and speck has rendered a bit of fat throw in a bunch of finely shredded cavolo nero and keep turning it over until wilted. Serve with poached egg on top. Heaven, and carb free!

  4. The top four vegetables for nutrition I read once are the cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and broccoli.

    For many years I have made these the vegetables I eat most so thanks Charlotte for another great recipe that includes cabbage.

    I bought an organic cabbage here from a market, possibly the freshest cabbage I’ve ever consumed as an adult (my family had a vegetable garden).

    I used the cabbage in an Italian Bean and Cabbage soup recipe found on the internet.


  5. Love all these thanks folks – Diana that Brussels sproutfest does sound divine, and I am soon going to do a little bit on these babies so thank you very much for the recipe. Funny how so many people say they don’t like them, when they can be so delicious. Even as kids in my family we loved them (not that there was any alternative…you say that to kids today and they don’t believe yer, etc etc).

    Helen, I would love to hear more about your cooking there in Naples and what you’re up to in that department (folks, Helen has just started a beautiful blog called Exploring Naples, so far covering all kinds of fascinating stuff re daily life from how the women wear such high shoes on such uneven pavements to how the garbage gets collected. Check it out here http://exploringnaples.blogspot.com/

    Steph and Sally, thanks for your ideas too. Must try that pastry Sally – sounds fab. And Steph I have always loved the colour combo of dark greens and cured pork – something very appealing about the look (and then there’s the taste, *drools*) .

  6. Firstly I come to your blog Charlotte via your beautiful and moving novel ‘The Submerged Cathedral’, so thank you for that, I look forward to the next one. Now, as a long time vegetarian, hearty, warming and non-meat dishes in winter are what I love. Oooh the joy of soups brimming with pulses and legumes, sweet roasted vegies, casseroles with steaming dumplings, jacket potatoes, but what I really want to recommend is the pleasure to be found in the quinoa grain. I know it’s becoming rather trendy (there’s even an article in ‘Good Living’ today about it) but there’s reason behind the trend. It’s yum. Also it’s so good for you, bursting with protein, vitamins, cholesterol-free and often organic. I’ve been on a bit of a cooking frenzy since buying the new and inspiring book ‘Cooking with Quinoa’ by Rena Patten and the recipe I want to recommend is Mango, Sweet Potato and Tomato Curry (with quinoa of course). I have been sending everyone I know this recipe so I’ll put it on the end of this post. I first did it with yellow mustard seeds as I was out of the black, but after making it again with the black mustard seeds I reckon the yellow are better. The quinoa acts as the rice part of the curry except you don’t have to cook the rice separately as it’s all bunged in together… easy. I serve it with pappadums, yogurt, lime juice, coriander and tamarind chutney. I initially felt guilty about using tinned mangoes but now I’m over it as the result is so delicious! Another book that offers wintery non-meat dishes is the fantastic ‘Eating for the Seasons’ by Janella Purcell. The Thai Pumpkin soup was perfect on a cold’s winter’s night.
    Mango, Sweet Potato and Tomato Curry
    Recipe uses tinned mangoes, if in season, use two fresh mangoes instead.
    2 tbsp olive oil
    1 tbsp black mustard seeds
    1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
    1 tbsp ground turmeric
    2 tbsp curry powder
    5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
    A small handful fresh curry leaves
    4 garlic cloves, chopped
    1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
    1 long red or green chilli, deseeded and sliced
    2 x 400g cans cherry tomatoes with juice
    1 x 400g can coconut milk
    500g orange sweet potato, peeled and cubed
    1 cup quinoa grain, rinsed and drained
    ½ cup hot water
    1 x 800g can mangoes in natural juice, drained
    ½ cup chopped coriander
    Lime juice for serving

    Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop. Add the onion and cook until it softens. Stir in the turmeric, curry powder, cardamom and curry leaves and cook for a few seconds. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and salt and cook for a few seconds more, until fragrant.
    Stir in the tomatoes, coconut milk and sweet potato, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the potato begins the soften. Stir in the quinoa and water and simmer on low heat for a further 15-20 minutes, until both the potato and quinoa are cooked.
    Cut the mangoes into pieces, add to the pan and heat through. Stir in the coriander, squeeze over some lime juice and serve garnished with extra coriander leaves.

    • Wow, thanks Isabelle! Sounds like a gorgeous recipe and thanks for the book recommendations too. And for your very generous words about the Submerged Cathedral. I get such a kick out of knowing that book is still out there making friends in the world even though it seems so long ago since I wrote it. I really appreciate your letting me know. And hope to see you round here often!

  7. […] Even as kids in our house, when the standard treatment for all vegetables was boil till textureless, we never complained about Brussels sprouts, and to my knowledge everyone in my family still happily chomps down on them with enthusiasm. But I guess the earthiness could be off-putting for kids, and I suppose the occasional metallic sort of bitterness one can experience has given them a bad name. For many winters now I’ve been simply tossing some Brussels sprouts in loads of olive oil and hurling into the roasting pan with other veg, for as we know well on this blog, a little roasting makes everything taste better. And I’m dying to try the pasta recipe offered by Diana in comments on the cabbage post here.  […]

  8. I’ve been making Jamie Oliver’s broccoli and cauliflower cannelloni. Google up a recipe, it’s all over the net. It’s delicious (though I use about half the parmesan recommended.

    This silverbeet and potato torte also been a winter staple (made with wholewheat flour and adding cooked cauliflower in the pie too). http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/180/silverbeet-and-potato-torte You can use any cheese you like, we use grated haloumi.

    • Whoa Penni, that sounds divine- funnily enough Senor has become rather a whiz at a fantastic broccoli & cauliflower penne with chilli & toasted breadcrumbs & pinenuts lately. Not sure where he got the recipe but I must check out the JO one. And I am off to visit your torte this instant, thank you so much.

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