Sometimes an empty fridge forces improvisation
I am in a second week of quarantine with no symptoms and, as a result, I’m a little low on fresh veg. A friend is dropping off some tomorrow but tonight I had to make do.
What can I do with cabbage besides coleslaw?
To be honest, I rarely cook from recipes, baking being an exception. I read cookbooks and watch shows for ideas and techniques. I really like it when I have to improvise and tonight was a challenge. I had some chicken thighs roasting in the oven but the crisper drawer held one sad green cabbage that had been living there for a month. And I had one big potato and an onion. Not a lot to work with, but that’s the fun part.
I started by shredding some cabbage, which was perfectly sound after the outer leaves were removed. That went into a saucepan with a big knob of butter and a splash of olive oil. I sautéed it slowly with a sliced onion and it smelled heavenly. A good pinch of dried red pepper flakes and salt and cracked black pepper were the extent of the seasoning.
What to do with the potato? It was huge. I peeled it and cut it into ¾” cubes, put them into a saucepan and covered them with water, added salt, and brought it to a boil. They simmered for five or six minutes and then I used a slotted spoon to add about half of them to the cabbage mixture along with about a half cup of the potato cooking water. That was left to simmer on low until the water cooked down and created a buttery emulsion, about ten minutes. Done.
The rest of the potatoes got drained and they will be home fries for breakfast tomorrow. Two meals from a few leftovers. The chicken came out of the oven and the cabbage and potatoes made a perfect fall side dish, warming on a grey rainy October evening.
Cooking for one means you can improvise without publicly screwing up
When you cook for one or two, improvising takes place even with recipes, because they usually serve four or more. But a dish like this butter-braised cabbage and potatoes is now a go-to that gives me one more way to use a cabbage. Buying a cabbage when you’re single usually means most of it will get tossed!
I spent a lot of time during lockdown cooking for myself or my lockdown partner. With access to groceries a little limited, there was a lot of improvisation. Most of it came out well but there was the occasional dud. That’s the way it is. But improvising is where you really start to hone your skills, to understand how to visualize how flavors and textures will work together. Even when ingredients are very limited, you can create delicious food.