Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Of Broken Toes and Cabbages

Three months ago, I broke my toe. Running for the phone in a morning stupor, I lost the stairs under my feet, slipped, and landed hard. The bones were crushed, and I knew it. But a toe is such a small part, really, and it seemed melodramatic to make a thing of it. I taped it up, and went on with the daily stuff of yoga classes, and chasing a toddler, and occasionally still rushing down the stairs.

But it didn't heal, not at all, and by the time I saw a doctor, it was a mess. Terms like "degenerative arthritis" were used, and I was given the option of surgery to remove a bone fragment, or an attempt to re-set the bone (which might not be effective and would still require surgery). Either way, my lower leg would be immobilized in a really attractive boot-like contraption for 6-8 weeks. After a day of consideration, I cleared my schedule, decided to close my yoga studio, and opted not to have the surgery. The re-setting went quickly, and I am now the proud owner of the aforementioned boot.

I have been listening to NPR a lot lately, listening for the most gruesome news. Because with shootings and famine, I can assure myself that closing a yoga studio and doing laundry on several flights of stairs is not a real problem.

So today, I found myself in this silly, gigantic boot, hobbling around the house in such a way that you'd definitely give me a look of pity, after first laughing a little because it looks so ridiculous. And instead of feeling thoroughly sorry for myself--which I was on the verge of doing--I decided sunshine and fresh air were worth thinking about.

I took my toddler outside, and began to rake the dead leaves from the backyard (raking, for some reason, is a surprisingly easy thing to accomplish with an immobilized leg), and had cleared the leaves from my herb area before moving toward the garden boxes. And that's when I saw them.

Cabbages. There they were, among the tattered remains of rapini and the remnants of frost-destroyed zucchini, surrounded by nothing but brown earth. Strutting above the wreckage, like a band of jolly emerald soldiers, were five--no,!--cabbages.

I don't think of cabbage as a hardy crop, and the funny thing was that they grew terribly during the summer season, all sad and reedy. Such that, on encountering someone else's cabbages during an evening walk, I would stop, shift my weight, and with a wry look and a wistful sigh say, "Now those are real cabbages."

But there they were: effortless, preposterous. And suddenly, the act of furiously raking leaves with a giant boot didn't seem silly at all. Neither did going to a concert or an overseas flight, or anyplace, really. Because there were cabbages growing here, and if they could survive two feet of snow and the death of their vegetable cohabitants, it wasn't such a stretch that I could survive a few months like this.

I'm very fond of cabbage now--if not for it's earthy taste, then for its steadfast character--and convinced it is the best remedy for the doldrums of self pity. I want coleslaw every day. I want to make cabbage tinctures, or to distil its hearty leaves into cabbage liqueur. But those things are weird, so I'm imagining more realistic dishes, beginning with Soba Cabbage Wraps. These can be found in my upcoming cookbook, Cook, Eat, Thrive.

Photo by Debora Durant at Invisible Voices

Soba Cabbage Wraps
4 appetizer servings
You'll find many variations on the sesame dressing (below) on my blog. I keep a bottle on hand for tossing with salad, marinating tofu, or whisking together with almond butter and serving with raw carrot noodles. It's one of my favorites, and I hope it becomes one of yours, too.

For the Soba Noodles:
6 ounces soba (buckwheat) noodles

For the Spicy Sesame Dressing:
½ small Thai pepper, seeded and minced (jalapeno, or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper, is a fine substitution)
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger root, or ½ teaspoon dried
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 scallion, thinly sliced, green parts only
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil (canola is a fine substitution)
2 teaspoons agave nectar or maple syrup
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

For the Pineapple Relish:
¼ medium pineapple (1 ½-2 cups), peeled, tough core removed, and diced
½ medium cucumber, seeded and diced
½ red pepper, diced
¼ cup tightly packed fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

For serving:
8-12 large cabbage leaves, washed and patted dry
additional cilantro leaves, optional, for garnish

Prepare the soba noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with very cold water, and drain again. Set aside.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the Spicy Sesame Dressing. Alternately, place them in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the cold soba noodles and stir slightly. Allow the noodles to absorb the dressing while preparing the Pineapple Relish.

In a medium bowl, combine pineapple, cucumber, red pepper, and cilantro. Set aside until ready to serve. At this point, the dressed noodles and relish can be refrigerated separately overnight and assembled the next day.

To serve, evenly distribute the soba noodles among the cabbage leaves. Top with equal portions of the relish. Garnish with additional cilantro leaves, if desired, and serve.

Raw Cabbage Wraps
Instead of soba noodles, substitute 2 zucchini, sliced into threads with a vegetable peeler. Make the Spicy Sesame Dressing by substituting nama shoyu for soy sauce, cold-pressed sesame oil for toasted, and raw agave nectar for regular. Use only half the dressing, and allow the zucchini threads to absorb it while preparing the Pineapple Relish. Everything else goes as directed.


Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Ah, your poor toe! The cabbages are so beautiful & the wraps sound great!

Anonymous said...

I once went to a vegan restaurant in Barcelona that made a salad similar to this and I have been craving the flavors together ever since. I can't wait to try this!