Vegetables as Superheroes Not Sidekicks: Curried Cabbage and Kale Gratin
When I think of vegetables, I think of a side dish or a salad. The vegetable could certainly play an important part of the main dish, but usually in a form of a wrap or a container for delicious stuffing, or a backdrop to fragrant meat. To put it into an American way of thinking--vegetables are sidekicks, not superheros.
Image: Courtesy of Eat Already
At least this is how I viewed them until today. Today I ran out of animal proteins. I mean, I still have eggs and bacon in the fridge, but everything else is frozen solid. All of those delicious cuts of lamb, beef and chicken, even beef franks--rock solid. What does one do? Improvise, of course! But, wait...with what? Let's see here...[digging into the fridge in melancholy...] cabbage, spinach, dry-aged [ahem] broccoli, a sweet potato, peas, carrots and some lettuces patiently waiting for retirement in a compost bin. So much for improvisation... There is this bag in there with who-knows-what... Hmm. Looks like kale. Wow, gorgeous, still very healthy kale. How did it survive my carnivorous lifestyle? Awesome.
When in doubt about the vegetable use, go with gratin. Gratin is an awesome dish--homey, comforting, and not excessively preachy-healthy tasting. The problem is--it's a side dish, not a main course. Kale gratin would be too fluffy and light for a main dish. Enter the cabbage--a small, crunchy green cabbage--for substance, sweetness and meatiness, if you will.
Cabbage and kale are relatives, you can even call them cousins, though they neither look nor taste like one another; they even grow in different seasons. Do I dare to combine them in one dish? Dare I do. Adding a leek for rich fragrance, and a few slivers of garlic to balance out the sweetness. For well-rounded, unifying aroma I added curry spices, but not so much to overpower the dish.
The rest was classic gratin. I did add a bit of bacon, just to be nice. But having tasted the end result, I say you can skip the bacon altogether. The flavor was definitely there, and the cabbage added much needed weight and texture, so meat is merely a formality.
Curried Cabbage & Kale Gratin
- 2 tbsp fat--my preference is always animal fat, such as tallow, chicken fat, duck fat or butter, but if you are going vegetarian route, olive oil will do nicely
- 2 slices of thick-cut bacon, preferably not the strong-flavored one, cut into 1/2" wide strips (totally optional)
- 1 large leek, dark green parts removed, sliced in half lengthwise, rinsed out, and sliced about 1/4" thick
- 3 cloves of garlic, slivered
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 small cabbage head, cored, quartered and sliced not too thinly
- 1 bunch kale, I used Lacinato, coarsest parts of the stems discarded, the rest coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup water for braising the cabbages
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 cup white bread crumbs, I used panko
- 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, or similar
- 2 tbsp butter, melted, for topping
Heat the cooking fat in a large deep skillet or a Dutch oven, over medium heat
Add bacon strips, leek and garlic at the same time and saute for a few minutes, until leeks are fragrant, and bacon is golden brown.
Add curry spice and stir well to coat the onions and bacon.
Add thyme and cabbage and saute for a few minutes, until cabbage releases some of the juice.
Add kale and water. Stir everything very well, add salt and pepper, about 1/2 tsp each. Stir again and let cook over medium heat, until water evaporates and vegetables wilt nicely, and cabbage becomes translucent. It should still retain a bit of a light crunch. Remove from heat.
Whisk eggs and milk in a separate bowl. Add about 1/2 cup bread crumbs and 1/2 the cheese. Stir well.
Add egg mix to the cabbage mix and stir until well distributed.
Heat the oven to 375F.
In a casserole dish spread a handful of bread crumbs on the bottom.
Fold out the gratin mix into the casserole and spread evenly.
Coat with remaining cheese and bread crumbs uniformly.
Drizzle melted butter on top.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until top is nicely browned.