Cabbage has an interesting reputation amongst vegetables. It looks sort of like a head of lettuce when it’s raw (and, yes, I have bought a head thinking it is lettuce before. Don’t pretend you haven’t either!), it’s got lots of water in it and it is extremely affordable.
All this leads some to believe that this is a simple food (in other countries it might be called “peasant food”) and can’t be made into a refined dish.
Those people, of course, would be wrong!
This stew had humble roots. My oldest daughter loves cabbage and I decided to make her some. In the African-American culture, it’s pretty common to season vegetables with animal meat, especially animal fat. Growing up we had collards flavored with pig tails and sauerkraut with short ribs. There were ham hocks and fat back and the whole nine (and while these things make me queasy now, I have very fond memories of them).
Well…I don’t want to live that way anymore. So I was trying to find a way to season the cabbage without using really fatty meat. One day I happened to have a log of turkey smoked sausage in the fridge and I decided to use it. It worked well. My daughter loved this soup.
Then, in her words, I started to mess it all up. How? By adding more nutritious things to it. (To this day she just likes the cabbage and the sausage and some red pepper flakes for heat). I liked the soup as it was, but it wasn’t colorful, it didn’t have a lot of texture variety. Frankly, my mouth was bored. Thus, this version was born. My daughter, of course, takes her bowl (which, for the record, I serve to her with a hunk of steaming hot corn bread thankyouverymuch) and tries to act like she doesn’t like it, but in the end the bowl is empty so…what does that say?
Anyway, this is a quick (from raw to table in about 40 minutes) and easy cold weather staple and I hope you enjoy it!
Nik’s Comforting Cabbage and Sausage Stew
1 head of cabbage, cut into whatever sized pieces you think you can handle
1 package turkey smoked sausage, sliced into rounds and then halves
1 large onion, diced
1 can of whole tomatoes, drained (you can do a big one or a little one, depending on how much you like tomatoes)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 (15 oz.) can of cannelini beans (note: my grocery store was out of them so I used Great Northern Beans–worked just fine!)
4 cups baby spinach (not frozen. Use fresh!)
Salt and pepper to taste, any other fresh or dried herbs that you like (when making a batch just for myself I like to put a tsp of Italian spice in there)
1 small can low-sodium chicken broth
2-3 cups water (depending on the size of your cabbage head)
Optional: red pepper flakes
In a sprayed pan, combine onions and garlic and sautee until softened. Add sausage and continue cooking until it’s crispy on the outside.
Add your chicken broth to the pan to get the bits off the pan (that’s where the flavor is!) and then transfer mixture to a pot.
Add cabbage, tomatoes add more water (water should not quite cover the cabbage–remember cabbage releases a LOT of water as it cooks) and set on a medium flame. Use a wooden spoon to break up the whole tomatoes a bit. You want bigger chunks of tomatoes, but you don’t want them whole (unless, of course, you do).
Cook until cabbage is tender. That usually takes about 30 minutes on my stove. If you like a little kick to your food, add the red pepper flakes (use your discretion on the amount. I usually use a 1/4 tsp) and let that simmer.
Once cabbage is done, add the beans and the spinach and simmer another 10 minutes or so.
If you add the proper amount of water, this has a good amount of liquid, but not too much. But even if you do end up with a lot of liquid, the broth itself is heavenly.
As I’ve said earlier in the week, I like to make big batches of soup and freeze them. This one almost always gets pulled out of the freezer when I have a cold. All the ingredients are easy on my pouch, it’s comforting and it’s real, honest-to-goodness food! In a soup, what more can you ask for?