“I’ve put you down for the cabbage” said FB. “Oh that’s OK” said I. This was a little while ago – December 1987 for the pedants. GPD and I were living in Pembrokeshire in newly married bliss, working at a consultancy in the stable yard of a field studies centre. We lived in a doll’s house cottage in the countryside, GPD’s bachelor pad that we were gradually transforming into a house for two. It was an idyllic spot, unless the army was on exercise; our cluster of cottages was by a tank firing range and during the summer the Europeans would visit and spend a week or two blowing the cliff tops to smithereens. They would generally do this at night, and the windows would rattle with each deep, echoing boom. Not the sort of stuff you find in estate agents’ blurb. It’s a beautiful area nonetheless; I was back there last summer working on a beach below the range and our cottage looks as cute as ever.
Anyhow, the kitchen staff at the field centre had recently catered for some big event and were on strike, refusing to cook a staff Christmas dinner. Undeterred, we all agreed we’d do it ourselves and FB took it upon himself to organise things. Cooking the cabbage sounded like something I could handle but I was an FB novice in those days. Twenty years on I would know there is no such thing as “just cabbage” in his lexicon and would not have been caught out by subsequent events. The week arrived and he presented me with a recipe. For cabbage? A recipe? This was no ordinary cabbage; this was Bandhgobi Tandoori, otherwise known as Baked whole red cabbage and I had to cook it for 40 people.
I feel I should share this with you. FB had helpfully pencilled “x8” next to the ingredients.
- 4 very small red cabbages (so that would be 32 small red cabbages. Or maybe 40, if everyone wants one.)
- 3 oz butter
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
- 5 tablespoons yoghurt
- ¼ cup double cream
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 6 cloves minced garlic
- 10 tablespoons sieved papaya or sweet plums (skinned; about 1 lb)
- ¼ teaspoon dried basil
- Juice of 8 limes
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley or coriander leaves
- 3oz blanched ground almonds
- 1 ground bay leaf
Remember that this was 1987, not 2010, that I was living in the wilds of Pembrokeshire (bottom left corner of Wales) and that food processors were so fabulous as not to have featured on our wedding list. I did track down most of the ingredients. I mean, do you really think I could get fresh coriander in south west Wales in 1987? Think on.
Mix well with softened butter all ingredients except cabbage and lime juice. (Note: this stage, one little sentence, took me several hours. A whole evening. I didn’t have a pan big enough.)
Make a small cut in the top of each cabbage, so you can separate the leaves without breaking them from the stalk or destroying the shape. (Oh yeah!)
Place some aromatic mixture between the leaves, reshape the cabbage, and if necessary tie the top with string. (Another whole evening.)
Brush butter over the cabbages and either grill or bake in the oven until the out leaves are wilting or turing colour. (In the oven. Temperature? For how long? A whole morning, it turned out.)
Put in a pan and sprinkle with half the line juice and salt. Cover and either poach on asbestos (I told you this was old) mat on top of stove or bake in low oven. When dry, moisten with remaining lime juice, cover and leave over medium heat until done, about 20 minutes. Now place in a hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Collect any drippings, spoon over the cabbages and glaze at a very high heat, serving at once.
Mmm. I seem to remember that cooking stuffed red cabbages for 40 in an embryonic kitchen entailed several days off work. Apparently it was very tasty!
This memory was inspired by GPD coming home a few weeks ago and casually mentioning that he’d said we would cook the soup for the Pipe Band Ceilidh. Note the “We”. Him saying “We’ll cook the soup” is a little like me saying “We should decorate the bedroom”. Soup for how many? 100.
I borrowed pans. I begged vegetables. No, I didn’t beg but East Coast Oganics kindly donated vegetables. I spent an afternoon peeling and chopping and roasting trays full of squash and carrots and onions and anything else I had around. GPD spent an evening chopping and washing leeks and potratoes. I excavated stock from the freezer, juggled things around on the stove and eventually we had several huge pans of soup.
Someone else was making sandwiches, I was told, so that was OK. We delivered the soup and I dashed in and out of the kitchen, trying to coordinate all four pans reaching a sensible temperature on a stove that was too small. Where were the sandwiches, I wondered? There were 6 baguettes in a huddle but no sign of sandwiches.
There were no sandwiches. There were six baguettes. I cut them up slightly larger than crumb size and hoped they’d feed five thousand.
Next year (am I reallly saying this?) I’ll buy the baguettes as well as sort out the soup.
Photo credit: Dru!