Want a big, beautiful bowl of green goodness, with a satisfying crunch and the power to light up almost plate? Meet leeks and cabbage. Good for you, economical, and a quick fix, but that’s not why you oughta make it! Make it because it’s simply delicious.
Cabbage and Leeks, Leeks and Cabbage
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, Crook’s always delights us.
With a cool bar, excellent old-school and new-school Southern cooking, and brilliant standards plus smart seasonal dishes, Crook’s is a happy, generous, comfortable and delicious place. I can’t believe we get to be regulars at such a swell spot.
Simply Spectacular Sides Can Elevate Magnificent Mains!
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 their signature shrimp and grits, to name a few).
But details matter, and Chef Justin Burdett and his culinary crew bring on spectacular sides with great care and genius and this Crook’s standard is one. I thought of recently when cold weather kept us inside and I was shopping the crisper in my own fridge. Leeks and cabbage —- ordinary as can be, yet a source of goodness and deep satisfaction.
Cabbage Is Magic
Everything is right about this little dish. Good, cheap, fast, made from long-lived ingredients you can keep around all the time. It’s good freshly made; it’s good left over; it costs pennies; it’s so good for us, it’s pretty — That’s good food right there. Oh, and cook-able too — as my friend Bill Smith says in the first line of his recipe for this fine dish, “This couldn’t be simpler.”
As I chopped things up, the beauty of these plain universal ingredients struck me. Leeks deliver so much oniony flavor, with delicacy and without tears. They’re nutrition packed and provide visual appeal as well.
All cabbages are on my A-list, but savoy cabbage stands out, just for looks. That little bumpy bubbly surface, the frilly edges, the color variations add delight; but this dish is great with regular ol’ cabbage too. Bill uses butter, and I did too, but vegetable oil would work wonderfully here, and would make it vegan as well as vegetarian.
This recipe comes from Bill Smith’s cookbook, and I cut it in half, since there are but two of us eating, and to quote Bill once again, mid-recipe: “I am always amazed at the amount of food there is in one cabbage. “
This is easy to scale up, though; just keep chopping and tossing batches on the stove — it’s a wonderful party dish and take-along. Once it’s in your wheelhouse, you may want to jazz it up all kinds of ways.
Gilding the Lily?
No, really: Because the onion family is related to the lily family, so gild that leek if you like! For a little extra sparkle, think pine nuts, green onions, edamame beans, sweet 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.
Vegan Version? Just Use Olive Oil Instead!
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 my leeks and cabbage to be crunchy, and it shouldn’t be cooked off to pieces as cabbage sometimes is. But if you prefer a little more softness, you could add some water to the pan and help it soften up, without losing the vivid color and brightness.
This recipe 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 their repertoire of excellent, memorable, complex and delicious menus. Good food from good people in a good place.
For more good green dishes to light up your table, consider my Broccoli with Fresh Ginger. And for a no-cooking fresh/healthy/delicious option, try my Thai-style Pink Grapefruit Salad with Toasted Coconut and Lime.
Video Time: Cabbage Gardening #101
- 1 large leek
- 1/2 of a green cabbage, (I like savoy, with the bumpy leaves, but regular cabbage is fine)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 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.
Bill's recipe calls for 2 large leeks and a small head of cabbage. I make half that much, which is plenty for the two of us for at least two meals. This serves 4 nicely; double it to serve a crowd, or to have extras for later in the week. (2 large leeks, a small cabbage, plenty of butter, salt and pepper. I'm partial to savoy cabbage for this, but good ol' cabbagey-cabbage does just fine too.
Nutrition InformationYield 4 servings Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 116Total Fat 12gSaturated Fat 7gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 3gCholesterol 31mgSodium 625mgCarbohydrates 4gFiber 1gSugar 1gProtein 1g