If you have a European background, your native food would probably be cabbage. Your ancestors would have had to wait until after the 1500s to enjoy tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, avocados, corn, chilis and more.
Cabbage’s wild origin, Brassica oleracea, is from Britain and continental Europe. It tolerates salt air and likes to live on cliffs by the sea. It was valued by the poor and rich because it was a staple during famines. Found in an anonymous journal from 1405-1449 – during a particularly rough time – an account accredited to a Parisian cleric stated: “Poor people ate no bread, nothing but cabbages and turnips and such dishes, without any bread or salt.” We have to count ourselves as very fortunate to be alive today.
A slow sauté in butter and molasses brings out the best in the cabbage. In this recipe, it becomes the topping to a flavorful and creamy meatloaf. It’s pretty simple, doesn’t take too long to make and the ingredients are readily available.
This recipe is adapted from one by Sam Sifton in the New York Times. He connects the Swedish version of this dish, called kalpudding, to Turkish, dolmas from the Ottoman Empire. Pork and beef are used in the Swedish version and covered with a sauce made with lingonberries, a shrub that grows wild in the Northern Hemisphere from North America to Eurasia.
I used mild Italian sausage because I wanted more flavor with the meat. I think it worked well. Lacking lingonberry jelly but having loquat jelly, I made an improvised version of this unusual sweet and savory sauce. One of the pleasures of home cooking is making the dish fit your pantry and your tastes.
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 head green cabbage, approximately 3 pounds, cored and shredded
3 tablespoons molasses or golden syrup
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 ½ pound mixed ground beef and pork, or mild Italian sausage
1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs or panko
1/3 cup chicken, beef or vegetable stock
For the sauce:
1/3 cup lingonberry preserves or another jelly
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put a large frying pan over medium-high heat, and add 2 tablespoons of butter. When it starts to bubble, add the cabbage and molasses. Lower the heat to medium and sprinkle with salt. Cook slowly, stirring often, until all the liquid has evaporated and the cabbage is caramelized approximately 20-25 minutes. It should have a rich reddish-brown color.
While the cabbage is cooking, lightly mix the meats in a large bowl. Add the onion, sour cream and breadcrumbs, and toss to combine.
When the cabbage is done, add about a third of it to the meat mixture and combine.
Use the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter to grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. Spread the meat mixture over the pan covering the whole surface evenly. Spread the remaining cabbage over the meat and pour the stock or water over the top and place in the oven.
Place on a sheet tray and bake for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cabbage is almost dry and crunchy at the edges. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
While the meat and cabbage cook, make the sauce. Heat jelly, vinegar and butter in a small pot set over medium heat, then add Worcestershire sauce to taste. Serve alongside the kalpudding. This dish goes well with boiled red potatoes and a crusty loaf of bread.
Sarah Ringler is a retired schoolteacher. She worked as a cook for 8 years before being a teacher, and also taught a cooking class at Pajaro Middle School for several years. She comes from a long line of serious cooks and passed the tradition on to her children, grandchildren, students and hopefully her readers.