Blackened Cabbage with Kombu Brown Butter

When I saw this recipe in last month's Bon Appetit, I knew I had to make it. Isn't it beautiful, the purple cabbage with the purple chive flowers? It came at a perfect time, too, just as I was preparing to give a whole talk on cabbage at the Naked Food Fair! Yeah, I know, I'm a vegetable nerd.

I'm a big believer in getting a little char on all the cabbage-family vegetables - it brings out their incredible sweet, nutty, umami flavors. This recipe takes it to the extreme, and it really is fantastic. The basic idea is you throw a half a cabbage in the pan and let it cook undisturbed so that it gets almost burned, while basting it with butter.

As I was researching for the cabbage talk, I discovered some amazing things about cabbage-family vegetables (actually, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards, and kohlrabi are all botanically the same exact species - Brassica oleracea - just bred for different leaves, flowers, and stems.)
  1. They are well known to help reduce cholesterol - the fiber in cabbage can bind up bile acids, which are synthesized from cholesterol in the body, allowing them to be excreted and thus lowering overall cholesterol. Steaming actually makes the fiber better able to do this. 
  2. Some of the phytochemicals in cabbage-family vegetables are actually being seriously studied for its cancer-prevention properties. A compound called 3,3-diindolylmethane may help mitigate damage caused by radiation treatment. Compounds called glucosinolates are converted to isothiocyanates in your body, with the help of myrosinase enzymes. Raw cabbage has the maximum amount of these compounds, but steaming is not too bad. Cutting the cabbage and letting it sit a few minutes allows the myrosinase enzymes to begin their work.
  3. They have tons of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds too. Anthocyanin in red cabbage is a great example. And a substance called kaempferol in broccoli and kale may lessen the impact of allergens.
So, this recipe is actually kind of the best of both worlds - you get the deep browning that develops great flavor, but the rest of the cabbage just basically steams. 

1 small to medium cabbage
1 Tbs oil
4 Tbs butter
1 strip kombu (kelp) - this is really optional
Chives or other fresh herbs for garnish, finely chopped

Cut the cabbage in half through the core. Save one half for something else, or if you're really skilled, double the rest of the ingredients, get another pan, and do two at once.

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high. Set the cabbage in the pan, cut side down, and cook undisturbed for 10 minutes. Don't worry if it looks burned!

Add the butter and baste for 10 minutes (pour spoonfuls of it over top of the cabbage to help cook the top). Don't worry if the butter looks really really brown. Check to see if it is done by poking a skewer or a knife all the way through - if it goes in easily, it's done. If not, keep basting for another few minutes. Crumble the kombu and baste a few times more. Cut in half and serve on two plates, drizzled with some of the brown butter and sprinkled with chives.


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