Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Hearty Winter Salad—Warm Cabbage with Ham, Goat Cheese & Toasted Pecans

Today I thought I would share a salad recipe that I taught last week in a Winter Salads class. A combination of recipes I discovered in Frank Stitt's Southern Table and Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, this salad has become a new favorite of mine. Although at first glance it may not seem to be a typical salad, its slightly crunchy texture and acidic finish keep it solidly in salad territory.

In my last post I touched on our natural craving for the foods that are in season during the winter months. If you are trying to learn to eat more in tune with the seasons, this dish would be a great place to start. It is winter food at its finest—an appealing dish using familiar and flavorful ingredients as supporting players to one of the most overlooked and maligned vegetables of the winter palate. If you think you don't like cooked cabbage, you need to try this salad. I think it would make a fine first course, but we enjoy it as the main event for lunch or a light dinner. The addition of a warm piece of cornbread makes a perfect winter meal.

Warm Cabbage Salad with Smoked Ham & Goat Cheese

5 to 6 oz. smoked ham, cut in a 1/3-inch dice
2 T. olive oil
2 bunches scallions—white plus a few inches of the green, thinly sliced and kept separately
Salt & pepper, to taste
1 T. picked thyme, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/4 lb. cabbage (green or red)—one small or half a large head—quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1 T. sherry or cider vinegar
1/2 c. (2 oz.) toasted Pecans
3 to 4 oz. goat cheese—preferably a crumbly, semi-aged, like Bûcheron, but a soft Montrachet-type would also work

In a large sauté pan set over moderately high heat, sauté the ham in the olive oil until golden brown in spots—about 2 minutes.

Reduce the heat a bit and add the white part of the scallions along with a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions are softened—about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the thyme and garlic and cook for another minute, or until fragrant. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the cabbage to the pan.

Season with salt and cook, tossing and stirring until just softened (if using red cabbage, it will have begun to turn from red to pink)—3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, pecans and the green portion of the scallions.

Season with freshly ground pepper. Toss to combine. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and vinegar. Divide the salad among warmed plates and crumble the cheese over all. Serves 4 to 6.

• Substitute thick bacon, cut cross-wise into 1/4-inch "lardons", for the ham. Cook in 1 T. olive oil until beginning to crisp.
• Add an apple—peeled and cut in a 1/3-inch dice—with the cabbage.
• Use Walnuts instead of pecans.
• Add a pinch of hot pepper flakes with the garlic and thyme.
• Substitute a small onion—red, yellow or white—thinly sliced, for the scallions. Cook until softened before adding the garlic and thyme.