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try everything once, including grilled cabbage

September 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

It’s pretty rare that I won’t try something new. For food, that’s a given; and I’m willing to try most everything once. You can never say that you don’t like something if you never try it, and more often than not, you should try a food a minimum of five times before declaring it off limits. Certain foods, however, I have taken one bite, just to say “I’ve tried this.” but there was never any chance of a repeat performance.

Like beef tongue. And for the record, I realize that it’s ‘beef’. But when you walk in to your culinary class at 6:45am, bleary eyed and in search of coffee and a massive, pale, gross looking slug of WHAT-THE-HELL-IS-THAT??? is laying on the counter, to which your instructor glibly tells you ‘That’s beef tongue.’, it truly turns your stomach. You cannot even imagine how enormous the tongue of a cow is unless it’s laying on the counter in front of you. Think of what you see, then add about 18 inches. Plus, cooking that thing is…. pungent. Then you have to peel it, and that’s as horrible as it sounds, because it’s truly wretched when you hear, and see it happening. I asked my instructor if my grade would be based on eating the beef tongue and he shook his head, thankfully. I took one taste, though, fresh with the memory of that pale slug looking thing, and the ripping of skin in my head and that was the end of that.

These days, the list of foods that I eat is extensive, no more surprising that 90% of them, I’m betting, were foods I didn’t touch even 10 years ago; beets, fennel, tomato, chard, spinach, mushrooms, eggplant (jury is still out on that one), salmon, onions, squash (both varieties), fresh herbs, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts…. it just goes on and on. The expansion of your palate will never be a quick and perfect thing, and that’s ok. As long as you never stop trying new foods, new methods of cooking foods and keeping an open mind to it all, there may come a day when mushrooms are on your plate because YOU put them there. This is no more surprising to me than being jabbed with a pin, as mushrooms were so revolting to me for so long that I nearly gagged just being in the same room with them.

My work allows me a constant window to people’s eating quirks. And even after 2-1/2 years at this  job, I still am surprised to come across food aversions. I’m not talking about avoidance for health reasons, such as lactose or gluten issues, I’m talking about people who visibly shudder when I serve salmon. “It’s fishy.” is the standard response. And they don’t want to hear that it’s only fishy when it isn’t fresh. That the cooking method goes miles towards making it taste good. That even if they haven’t eaten it in 20 years, they really should try it again. Once someone makes up their mind that they don’t like a food, it’s pointless to even open their minds again.

And that’s sad. If that had been me 10 years ago, my life, my meals and my mind would be terribly stagnant. And what’s the worse that can happen? You make a dish and end up not liking it? Maybe it was the method. The seasonings. It was overcooked, or undercooked. Did anyone really love kale the first time they ate it? I sure didn’t. But I kept on trying, because if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.  Which brings me to Grilled Cabbage.

My only exposure to warm cabbage in a meal was when I was young and the corned beef with cabbage dinner was prepared in our house. The smell was nauseating, and I couldn’t eat the pale, limp cabbage that was the result. With this memory, I’m not sure how I decided that grilling it might be better, but I’m always willing to take a shot and see what I hit. Something about that additional smoky grilled taste caught in my head, and I drizzled olive oil over sliced cabbage in an oven safe skillet and sprinkled it with a bit of sea salt.

Then I set the entire pan in the middle of a very full grill.

This was totally new for me, and I wasn’t even sure I would like it, but I let it brown all over, tossing it occasionally with tongs as it cooked. When it seemed tender, but still a bit crisp, I took it off the heat and scattered a handful of crumbled blue cheese on it.

A tentative first bite, and contemplative chew revealed the smoky taste I was looking for, and a surprisingly crisp yield. A pop of blue cheese sealed the result; it was really good. Unbelievably, outrageously good; so good that I ate the entire pan, a half head of Napa cabbage, along with the rest of my dinner.

You know when you’ve had something extraordinary happen, and it seems to fill you with a sense of wonder? Like the air around you has shifted and you can almost feel a change taking hold of you? This, coupled with the start of September, a new month, and all around me seeing my friends children go off to school in new clothes, to new schools, from new homes and new states and begin brand new experiences and somewhere inside you, this time of year says ‘What was will never be the same again.’

And I don’t think I’ll look at a plain head of cabbage again, now that I know what heat and smoke can do to it. So try something new, and keep your mind open to possibilities and just TRY those foods that you maybe once hated, that maybe made you gag or roll your eyes. You just never know, do you?

What are some foods that you eat now that you once couldn’t stand??

Grilled Cabbage

Napa cabbage, shredded, but not too fine
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Blue cheese crumbles (or feta, if you are so inclined)

Heat grill to high, or prepare coals to make a good hot base.

In an oven safe skillet, or a cast iron pan, lay cabbage in one layer as best as possible. It will shrink a bit, so you can wedge it together at the beginning. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of sea salt, or to taste. Place pan on grill grate and shut the lid. (Remember…. the handle will be HOT. Keep an oven mitt or towel close by, with a set of tongs)

Allow to sit, undisturbed, for about 15 minutes, then toss lightly, pressing it back to one layer. This helps with the browning, which provides tons of flavor. Cook, tossing occasionally, until cabbage is wilted and browned all over. How long you cook it depends on how crisp or soft you wish it to be. My pan was probably on the grill for (maybe) a half hour, possibly less, and the end result was crisp, but still tender.

Remove from heat and toss blue cheese on top. Allow to cool slightly, and consume warm. Season with pepper, if need be.

2 Responses to “try everything once, including grilled cabbage”

  1. Sasha says:

    I was the kid who always ordered chicken fingers at the restaurant – I didn’t want any surprises. I didn’t start really trying things until university, when a friend cooked dinner and so of course I had to try it (funny how I never felt this about my mother’s cooking). The friend was from Trinidad, the dish was a curry, and it was DE-LISH. The same friend also took me out for goat roti (yum), that was it -> I was hooked on trying new things, the weirder (to my boring western European palate) the better. And I haven’t found all that much that I don’t like. There was the one Dim Sum where we tried both chicken feet and tripe (thumbs down on both, for me), but my buddy imparted this great piece of wisdom: If you don’t find anything you don’t like, you’re not trying enough stuff (not intended as a slight to your previous commenter, I just thought it was an excellent way of looking at things).

    So, um, what was I going to say? Oh yeah, nappa cabbage. Funny that I’m kinda so-so on most cabbage dishes, but I loved a salad I tried made with nappa cabbage, I can’t believe I’ve never thought to use it elsewhere. Must fix! Thanks!

  2. Balisha says:

    I have never found anything that I don’t like. People find it strange..I know. I grew up with peas and corn as the only vegetables…I have not followed that in my later years. I enjoy every vegetable. I can’t think of anything that I don’t like…except maybe a slice of head cheese..when I worked in a deli. I never tasted it, but found the way it looked so unappealing.
    I really enjoy your posts.
    Balisha