During the school year here is always something on the parental radar that requires the purchase of, production of or contribution towards food. These requests may be as simple as birthday cupcakes for a first grade in-school birthday party (although one must be mindful not to kill or merely asphyxiate children with nut allergies) or as complicated as the most recent request to come why way: a “dish reflecting our family’s ethniticity” for an international festival called The Taste of Glencairn. Sam’s school has many international students with parents who have either come to study or work at the University, or who have fled as refugees, and the event was established years ago to honor and highlight the food, art and dancing of our community’s diverse cultures.
I knew that there would be authentic foods from Central and South America, Somalia, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia…and pizza and Stouffer’s lasagna donated by working parents who honestly had no time to fuss with an “ethnic” dish that could serve 12 on a week night. I knew I wanted to make something good (I have a reputation to protect, after all) but there were issues of both ethnicity and budget. Rob’s background, and half of mine is pure Anglo – English, Irish and Scot. I had no desire to make roast beef and Yorshire pudding, bangers & mash, haggis, corned beef & cabbage, colcannon or Irish stew. The ethnic food I usually cook tends to be Mexican, Italian and Asian, but not one of us can claim so much as a splash of blood from any country that cooks food in those genres. I was quite certain that there would be no Culture Police scanning the three of us for signs of Thai heritage to support a proferred curry, but I wanted to be authentic. I get obsessive about stuff like that.
All that remained was my “wild side-” the heritage of Eastern European and Russian jews who had cooked the foods of Latvia, Hungary and Russia, mixed in with what we, in my mother’s family, call “Jew Food.” (In case you are wondering, that is one of those expressions that we can use, but you can’t). Some things were just too expensive to prepare for 12 – Brisket, Paprikas, and Pierogen for twelve would all have required the purchse of more meat than I buy for a week of dinners. Other things couldn’t be kept warm (like latkes) or would be hard to eat in a huge crowd with minimal seating (like Matzoh Ball soup). No one would eat chopped liver, I didn’t want to make a dessert (although I make great Rugelach)…and then my mind turned to cabbage. (In the winter, a young woman’s fancy often turns to cabbage). Noodles and Fried Cabbage, known in my family of origin as “Hungarian Ice Cream” is simple, decadent, and easy to prepare. We didn’t eat it really often in my childhood, mostly because it is a heart attack on a plate to rival Fettucine Alfredo, but it’s good. It’s really, really good.
I looked at recipes online, but all of them seemed to contain an ingredient that departed from my sense memories (caraway seeds? Paprika?) Also, the quantities seemed shifty in terms of what I remembered. Two heads of shredded cabbage and one bag of cooked noodles? One head of shredded cabbage and two bags of cooked noodles? In the end, I did what I should have done in the first place: I called my mother and asked her. She said a pound of butter, a head of cabbage, a bag of noodles. She was, of course, right. The finished product was as good as I remembered, and disappeared from the serving table within minutes. If you decide to try this, please don’t try to make it healthier. Just eat a little bit and don’t make it often, but don’t ruin it by cutting the (obscene amount of) butter. It is a beautiful thing served alongside plain meat like roast chicken, leg of lamb, lamb or brisket.
Noodles and Fried Cabbage
- 1 head green cabbage, sliced into long, thin shreds, or the equivalent in purchased shredded cabbage.
- 1 pound salted butter
- 1 bag good quality egg noodles
Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil for noodles. While water is boiling, cut cabbage if you are using a whole head. Try to cut it into pieces no longer than about 2 inches.
In large frying or sautee pan, melt butter over low to medium-low heat. Be careful that it does not brown or burn. When water reaches a boil, salt it and add noodles. Cook noodles for 10 minutes, and while they are cooking, add cabbage to butter (if it is completely melted) raise heat to medium high, and sautee, stirring frequently, until cabbage is completely limp and much of it is brown. The brown is good – it’s caramelization, and makes the cabbage sweet. If your noodles finish cooking before the cabbage is finished, drain and set aside.
When cabbage is cooked (no crunchy pieces left in the pan, and a tasted bit is soft, sweet and buttery) turn off heat and add drained noodles to cabbage. Stir to mix noodles and cabbage thoroughly.