We love going to Crook’s Corner, a beloved, long-time favorite, highly-praised restaurant here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina USA. From the giant pig on the the rooftop to the inspired monthly art exhibits, warm welcome and superb service, cool bar, and excellent old-school and new-school Southern cooking, Crook’s is a happy, generous, comfortable and delicious place. I can’t believe we get to be regulars at such a swell spot.
Famous for big-deal meals and spectacular changing menus, there’s so much to love (corned ham, soft shell crabs, green tasbasco chicken, cheese pork, cold-fried chicken, and shrimp and grits, to name a few), Chef Bill Smith and his crew bring the sides with great care and genius and this is one. I thought of it this week when snow kept us inside and I was shopping the crisper in my own fridge. Leeks and cabbage —- source of goodness and satisfaction.
Everything is right about this little dish. Good, cheap, fast, made from long-lived ingredients you can keep around, good fresh, good left over, good for us, pretty — That’s good food right there. Oh, and cook-able too — as Bill says in the first line of his recipe “This couldn’t be simpler.
As I chopped things up, the beauty of these plain universal ingredients struck me. I like savoy cabbage for the little bumpy design, the frilly bubbly texture; but it’s great with regular ol’ cabbage too. Bill uses butter, and I did too, but vegetable oil would work wonderfully here, and make it vegan as well as vegetarian.
I cut his recipe in half, since there are but two of us eating, and to quote Bill Smith once again, mid-recipe: “I am always amazed at the amount of food there is in one cabbage. ” Easy to scale up, though, just keep chopping and tossing batches on the stove — it’s a wonderful party dish and take-along, you could jazz it up all kinds of ways, with pine nuts, green onions, corn, garlic in oil, crispy shallots — but then again, I love it just like this. Mashed rutabagas are its frequent companion at Crook’s and that is a very beautiful and smart pairing.
Yes, I did go for the butter here — cabbage left in big hunks, cooked in a covered saucepan with just a little water, then butter salt and pepper, is a favorite of mine from childhood. But olive oil is delicious here, and makes this a vegan dish.
I like it crunchy, and it shouldn’t be cooked off to pieces as cabbage sometimes is; but if you want a little more softness, you could add some water to the pan and help it soften up without losing its color and brightness.
This is but one of the treasures in Bill’s wonderful and useful and excellent first cookbook: Seasoned in the South: Recipes from Crook’s Corner and from Home, from Algonquin Books, out there in hardcover and paperback. Full of gold.
If you get to Chapel Hill, treat yourself to a meal at Crook’s Corner, and if you can’t get here, grab a cabbage and a leek and treat yourself to a small, humble dish from Bill’s repertoire of excellent, memorable, complex and delicious menus. Good food from good people in a good place.
- 1 large leek
- ½ of a green cabbage, (I like savoy, with the bumpy leaves, but regular cabbage is fine)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Trim and peel the leeks, and cut them into 2-inch lengthis.
- Cut each piece into matchstick-sized strips.
- Place in a big bowl and cover with cold water; set aside while you prepare the cabbage.
- Cut cabbage half into two pieces, lengthwise: trim away and discard core
- Thinly slice each piece of cabbage crosswise.
- Drain leeks and toss with cabbage -- they need not be dry.
- Heat butter in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven. Add cabbage in batches and cook tossing now and then, until bright green and tender, but not limp and khaki colored. Cabbage should be cooked but sill crunchy -- add a little water if you need to.
- Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.