Between rain showers yesterday I hiked down to the lower garden to take stock of the cabbage situation. Most of the heads were the size of bowling balls, and some nocturnal critter had gnawed the largest of the green ones. The purple cabbages were mesmerizing — iridescent leaves, powdery skin. I almost couldn’t lop those pretty heads off.

But it was our turn to cook for the crowd, and if there was purple cabbage in the garden I was determined that it be part of dinner. I had a specific JT recipe in mind, one that I’d adulterated with green cabbage a dozen times. Just how different the two cabbages could be I wasn’t sure; locally available resources, including a 1953 Joy of Cooking, skirted the issue, and a Vegetarian Epicure from the ’70s hardly condescended to mention the humble crop.

So I cooked and sampled as I cooked. The purple leaves lacked the radishy heat of the green, I decided, and I liked how the magenta color stayed vibrant even with prolonged cooking. In the end I thought the recipe played well with cabbages of either race. More important was figuring cooking time; Traunfeld recommends a fast saute but I opted to melt the sweet leaves down to tenderness, leaving just a hint of crunch. So much for hewing exactly to the recipe.

Recipe: Braised Red Cabbage with Apples and Lime

1 sour apple, such as Granny Smith / hot pepper flakes / 1 head purple cabbage, or substitute green / juice of 1 lime / 3 tbls sugar / ½ tsp salt / ½ cup cilantro, chopped

Cut apple into ¼ inch dice. Slice cabbage thinly. Heat skillet over medium-high heat and swirl vegetable oil in pan. When hot, add diced apple and hot pepper flakes to taste. Cook until apple is slightly browned, about 1 minute. Add cabbage, lime juice, sugar, and salt, and mix thoroughly. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30-40 minutes, until cabbage is tender. Remove from heat, correct salt, and toss with cilantro. Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld. Feeds 6-8 as a side dish.

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