I made this tasty but rather unprepossessing salad to go along with a pot of Muhjadarrah that I read about over at Toast the other day. I am a big fan of lentils, so when I read about it, I decided to make it as soon as possible, which turned out to be this past Saturday evening when I was also making the cake for A.'s party. For reasons that are unclear to me, but that echo the problems I have with cake flour, I was unable to remember any of the three bags (including a four-pound bag) of lentils that were sitting in my pantry, so when I was at the store, I picked up another couple of pounds. After all, they're dried, so they're not going to go bad, and they're almost cheaper than dirt, so no harm done, right? I just have to use up the extra ones I bought before V. (who is somewhat less than amused when I come home with a third or fourth of something that I haven't used up the first of yet) returns from Sarajevo, and since he's there for another three weeks, that shouldn't be a problem, especially since I've already made two batches of the Muhjadarrah. I didn't really follow the recipe the first time; I thought that six tablespoons of olive oil sounded like an awful lot, and I only had a medium-large onion, and I got distracted while the lentils and rice were on the stove, and they ended up being somewhat overcooked. Mind you, it was still pretty good, and A. and I had it for dinner last night, and she said that she wanted more for breakfast this morning. But while six tablespoons of oil looks like a lot in the skillet, a quart of rice and lentils drinks it up pretty quickly. Besides, if you only use two or three tablespoons of oil, you have to spend a lot more time minding the onions and turning them about. With the deeper oil, they cook more evenly with only minimal tending, and that's a good thing because they take forever to caramelize properly. Anyway, the second batch, with more oil (let's not even pretend that I measured, but it could very easily have been six tablespoons, though it likely wasn't any more than that) and two medium-large onions and lentils and rice that were not overcooked, was significantly better. Of course, I couldn't not make some slight adjustments to the recipe, so I used brown rice, and I added some whole cumin seed to the onions about two-thirds of the way through their cooking time. Obviously, brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, so I just started them both cooking at the same time.
Here at the chez nous, we eat a lot of cabbage salad in the winter. V. makes it frequently, and he generally just shreds part of a cabbage, plops it in a bowl, pours some olive oil and wine vinegar over it, then tosses it with salt and pepper. It was, I admit, not a dish that I took to immediately, but these days I look forward to seeing it on the table. I was, it must be said, a late convert to cabbage. As a youth, I mostly was faced with cabbage as something that was boiled along with kielbasa, a treatment that perhaps does not play to its strengths. I keep meaning to explore other treatments of cabbage, but I haven't yet. I blame redfox. She posted a whole series of cabbage recipes sometime last year (or the year before; I'm just way too lazy to go look, and if I don't go and read the actual posts, I can say that she said whatever I feel like saying that she said, and if I'm wrong, well, I didn't really look, did I?), and one of the last recipes in the series was for braised cabbage, and that recipe said (you will understand that the quotation marks indicate that I'm paraphrasing) "Begin with a tasty fat. You can use butter or olive oil if you really must, but the best of all possible choices is duck fat. It's even better if it comes from a duck who was mistreated for all of his short miserable life and then dispatched inhumanely, but the fat from any duck will do in a pinch. Mmmmmm, duck." (I feel almost guilty writing about animal fat while I'm having my lunch and chowing down on this thoroughly delicious, thoroughly vegan second batch of Muhjadarrah -- I kid you not, this stuff is fantastic -- but if the supposedly vegetarian redfox can advocate its use, those of us with more tender sensitivities will just have to suck it up, I suppose.) Anyway, every time I think about braising some cabbage, I think that I really want the first batch to be made with duck fat, which is something that I only have on hand when I happen to have recently roasted a duck, which I have not done in some years. Oh well. Someday.
Anyway. V. always uses good old green cabbage for his cabbage salads, and when I was at the supermarket, I was looking for a head of good old green cabbage, but there was none to be found, so I got a head of Napa cabbage. And then, once I had it wrapped up in a bag and stowed in my cart, I saw the huge pile of good old green cabbage, so I got a head of that, too. I used the Napa cabbage for the salad, so I'll have to come up with another use for the good old green cabbage. Perhaps I'll buy a duck.
1 clove garlic*
1 head Napa cabbage
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 t. whole cumin seed
1 t. whole fennel seed
Cut the clove of garlic in half and rub it around the inside of the bowl that you're going to make the salad in.*
Put the cumin and fennel seed in a small skillet and toast them over medium-low heat. Reserve.
If there are any tough outer leaves to the cabbage, remove them. Then slice it crosswise, as thinly as possible.
Pour some vinaigrette into the bottom of your bowl, then add the cabbage and parsley. Toss to coat, adding more vinaigrette as necessary. Season with salt and pepper, toss again, then top with the toasted seeds.
*I am convinced that this step adds absolutely nothing to this particular recipe, but it's kind of fun to do. I think next time I'll just put some garlic in my vinaigrette, the way I usually do.
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil
1 t. Dijon mustard
Combine ingredients in a jar. Shake.
You don't, of course, actually measure the ingredients for a vinaigrette. You just get a lemon out, cut it in half, use your lemon reamer to get all of its juice out and into a bowl, remove the seeds, pour the lemon juice into a jar, then pour approximately three times as much olive oil in the jar, add the mustard and the salt and the pepper, close the jar, and shake well. Taste it. If your vinaigrette tastes flat, you probably haven't added enough salt. It's really pretty simple. Vinaigrette is almost always better with a pureed clove of garlic added in. I don't know why I didn't do that with the cabbage salad, but it was pretty good without the garlic. I'm not sure that the term "vinaigrette" is entirely appropriate when you're using lemon juice instead of vinegar, but I don't plan on changing my terminology. When I'm making a salad with lettuce or spinach, I'll generally use either red wine vinegar or cheap balsamic vinegar instead of the lemon juice, so if you're troubled by vinaigrette without vinegar, you can make it that way instead. I think the lemon juice is nice with the parsley and cabbage, though. You can use any good olive oil that you like. The olive oil in this picture looks very dark; that's because it really is very dark, though it doesn't really have a heavy taste. The post-shake dressing is very green in the jar, but it's clear on the salad. If you had been in the kitchen while I was making the salad (and the Muhjadarrah), you would have seen me taking down various bottles of olive oil and smelling them to see which one I wanted to use. Be glad that you weren't there: no one needs to see that, and it's not like I would have given you any of my Muhjadarrah, anyway.