Cabbage and kale recipes | Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2024)

It's been a while since I've needed any encouragement, or threat, to eat my greens. In fact, cabbage, kale and leafy brassicas in all their forms are at the top of my list of favourite veg – at least until the first peas and broad beans arrive.

I delight in the crisp, intricately wrinkled savoy cabbages and tender young spring greens that abound early in the growing year. The last of the brussels sprouts may still be offering up their extraordinarily delicious leaves, while my absolute desert-island green has to be kale. Whether it's the jagged, purple-green leaves of Russian kale, the deep wine-coloured, curly frizz of the 'Red Bor' variety, or the elegant, deep green, upstanding quills of tender, gentle cavolo nero, this is a vegetable bursting with character and flavour, not to mention vitamins.

I like my greens simple: steamed and then tossed with a little butter in which a thinly slivered clove of garlic has been gently sweated for just a minute. Toasted caraway seeds give an aromatic lift to this earthy combination. And a family staple in the aftermath of a spring roast chicken is shredded kale or greens dropped for a minute into a simple, simmering chicken-stock broth, with a few beans or pasta shapes fora bit of body. Another quick hit supper: spring greens and crisp bacon stirred through pasta.

But there are times when I fancy branching out a bit with my leaves. That doesn't mean indulging in anything complicated, just trying new partnerships and different cooking methods. You can prepare these gorgeous ingredients in so many ways and mingle them with so many partners. Avocado, say, is a very pleasing bedfellow to savoy cabbage, as this week's salad illustrates. In fact, most greens, lightly blanched, refreshed in cold water, then spun dry or squeezed to rid them of excess moisture, work surprisingly well in main course salads, particularly when combined with beans or grains, maybe a little leftover meat, and a slightly creamy dressing. So don't be bound by convention when it comes to eating your greens: I even strew lightly cooked, shredded kale on pizza.

To ensure a happy outcome, use brassicas that are as fresh as possible. Unlike some summer veg, these cabbagey characters can survive a few days on a shop shelf, but not too many. As soon as they lose that stiff-leaved vibrancy, and start to look limp, they're gone. Wash well to remove any grit, then take the time to cut the leaves – as so often with fruit and veg, the way you slice your greens can make all the difference to the finished dish: remove the tough ribs from the centre and shred the leaves crosswise into strips – no more than 5cm thick and as fine as 4-5mm. They are far more delightful in the mouth when prepared in this way. Then the only thing you need to avoid is over-cooking and water-logging. Soggy, slimy leaves have little flavour, and lengthy boiling produces that sulphurous, school-dinner pong that gives cabbage a bad name. I favour steaming, stir-frying, wilting (in just a scrap of water) or light blanching – two to three minutes usually does it.

Stir-fried beef with kale and cashews

If you can marinate the beef, somuch the better, but it's still delicious even if it's thrown together at the last minute. Serves two.

300g lean beef (top rump or topside), cut across the grain into thin strips
50g cashew nuts
150g kale, stems removed, leaves shredded (or savoy or spring greens)
1 nest fine noodles
2 tbsp sunflower oil
Lime juice
Sea salt

For the marinade
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely grated
2 tsp finely grated root ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tbsp soft brown sugar

Combine the beef with the marinade ingredients, cover and refrigerate. Leave it for up to five hours, if you're able to prepare the meat ahead of time, but even 20 minutes will do.

Heat a wok, without any oil, over a medium heat. Add the cashews and toast them, tossing frequently, for a couple of minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.

Put the kale in a colander and pour over a kettleful of boiling water to wilt it. Leave to drain.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions.

While the noodles are cooking, heat the oil in the wok over a high heat. Drain the beef from its marinade, reserving the marinade. Give the beef a pat with kitchen paper so it's fairly dry. Add it to the hot wok and stir-fry for about two minutes, until browned all over. Add the kale and the marinade juices, and stir-fry for another two minutes or so. Toss in the cashews at the last minute. Give it a squeeze of lime juice, then taste and add more if it needs it – and a little salt if you like.

Drain the noodles and arrange on two plates, top with the beef and kale, and serve straight away.

Savoy cabbage with avocado, lentils and bacon

Cabbage and avocado may not sound like an obvious marriage, but it works: the crisp, slightly bitter savoy tempered by the creamy, sweet and smooth avocado. Lentils and bacon turn this into a substantial salad. Serves four.

100g puy lentils
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, bashed
A few parsley stalks (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
100g unsmoked bacon, chopped
½ small cabbage (savoy, say; about 200g in all), tough stalks removed, coarsely shredded
2 avocados
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper

For the dressing
Juice of ½ a lemon
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaped tsp English mustard
½ tsp sugar

Put the lentils into a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, boil for one minute only, then drain. Return the lentils to the pan and pour on enough water to cover them by 1cm or so. Add the bay leaf, garlic and parsley stalks, if using. Bring back to a very gentle simmer and cook slowly for 25 minutes, topping up with boiling water if need be, until tender but not mushy.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and fry the bacon for a few minutes, until crisp. Leave to cool completely.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients, season and set aside.

Drain the lentils and discard the herbs and garlic. Toss with two tablespoons of the dressing, add a little more salt and pepper, and set aside to cool completely.

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Throw in the cabbage and cook for just 30 seconds or so, and no more than a minute, then drain in a colander and immediately refresh either by dunking it in a bowl of iced water or by holding the colander under a running cold tap. This will stop the cooking process and helps keep that brilliant green colour. Drain the cabbage again, then give it a whirl in a salad spinner to remove all the water.

When the cabbage and lentils are ready, peel and destone the avocados and cut the flesh into 2-3cm pieces. (Don't prepare the avocado ahead of time because it will discolour.) Gently toss the cabbage with the lentils, avocado and bacon. Divide between four plates, trickle over the remaining dressing and serve.

Panade (V)

This rich, warming dish – a sort of cabbage, onion and stale bread gratin – is inspired by a recipe from San Francisco's Zuni Cafe. It's a rare exception to the rule of cooking cabbage only briefly. I love how it uses very humble ingredients to produce a sumptuous result. Serves six.

8 tbsp olive oil
4 medium or 3 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground blackpepper
1 small green cabbage (or kale or chard; 600-700g in all), tough stems removed, leaves cut into 1cm strips
300g slightly stale, robust bread – sourdough works well – cut into 2cmcubes
175g grated gruyère or other well-flavoured hard cheese
500ml hot vegetable stock

Heat half the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the sliced onions and stir well to break up the rings. Once they are sizzling, turn the heat down to very low and cover the pan. Cook them gently, stirring from time to time, for about half an hour, or until very soft and golden. Add the chopped garlic and some salt and pepper about halfway through the cooking.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Meanwhile, put the cabbage into a steamer and cook for about four minutes, until tender but not too soft. You can also cook it in boiling water, but make sure you drain it really well – you don't want to add cabbagey water to the dish.

Put the cubed bread into a large bowl. Add the remaining oil and some salt and pepper, and toss well so the bread cubes are coated with oil and seasoning.

Choose a large, wide, shallow oven dish about 20cm x 30cm. Spread one-third of the cooked onions over the base, then scatter over one-third of the bread cubes followed by one-third of the cheese. Scatter over half the cabbage. Repeat these layers, then finish with the final onions, bread and cheese.

Make sure your stock is piping hot, then pour it all over the dish, allowing it to soak in to the bread. Cover with foil, bake for 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake for 30 minutes more, until golden brown and bubbling.

Remove the panade from the oven, let it settle for 10-15 minutes, then bring to the table and serve.

Cabbage and kale recipes | Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2024)
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