The table as the gravitational center of our lives.

Pickled Red Cabbage & Asian Pear Salad with Poppyseeds

“The time has come,’ the walrus said, ‘to talk of many things:  of shoes and ships and sealing wax – of cabbages and kings.” -Lewis Carroll, British author, clergyman, mathematician, and photographer, from his classic book Through the Looking Glass

It’s been something of a Pickle-Palooza in the lab lately.  The other day I pickled kirby cucumbers and red onions for burger toppings, and I created this technicolored salad for my Easter menu several weeks ago to serve alongside some braised rabbit (yes, I know – how utterly sadistic to eat the Easter bunny!), herbed spätzle, and cardamom brown butter-glazed carrots and parsnips.  In addition to its (dare I say) stunning purple color, it has wonderful flavor and the mysterious ability to “wake up” the other flavors on the plate.

Chef Timothy Shaw (scroll down) at French Culinary Institute once explained to our class with beautiful simplicity that creating great food is really about the balance of fat, sugar, and acid.  That basic little triangular relationship is why certain wines enhance the flavor of certain foods, why pork chops taste so good with applesauce, and why pickles are such a common condiment around the world.  Having a super-acidic pickled item next to a nice piece of meat and a sugary starch like potatoes or rice…..well, that is basically the Triple Crown of flavor in my book.

The inspiration for this salad, along with all of the components of my Easter menu, came from the two places that have taught me everything I know in the past 9 months:  FCI & good friend Jacques Gautier‘s Park Slope restaurant Palo Santo.  I have many wonderful things to say about Palo Santo in due course, but for the purposes of this post, all you need to know is that the most amazing, electric shade of purple at the saucier station kept catching my eye, and that I discovered its source while ingredient-hunting in the basement walk-in refrigerator:  pickled red cabbage.  I dug out a whole bunch of pickling recipes to work from, including one from my stint in L’Ecole‘s kitchen for pickled Asian pears.  The recipe that follows is something of a remix of all of those recipes, and I hope I took all of the little bits and pieces and re-arranged them in a way that still makes a pretty good song.

Ingredients:

For the pickling solution:

4 cups water

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

3 tbsp. kosher salt

3 tbsp. sugar

2 cloves garlic, smashed, skins removed

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. whole mustard seeds

1 tsp. ground allspice

6 whole cloves

For the remainder of the recipe:

1 good handful fresh cilantro leaves, washed and dried well

1 good handful fresh Italian parsley leaves, washed and dried well

1 small-medium head of red cabbage, washed well, quartered, core portions removed, and shredded finely on a mandolin or by hand

1 Asian pear, washed and cut en julienne

2 tsp. poppyseeds

High-quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

1.  Combine all of the ingredients for the pickling solution in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil.  When the solution reaches a nice, hearty, rapid boil, remove it from the heat and allow to cool down.

2.  While the solution boils and cools, prepare the remaining ingredients as indicated above.  You will also need a plastic container large enough to hold at least 3 quarts.  (NOTE:  I didn’t have one of those, so I used 3 separate quart-sized containers and divided everything evenly among them.)  Create a layer of cilantro and parsley leaves on the bottom of each container.  Next, pack the container full of shredded red cabbage, pressing down firmly as needed to fit it all in with a bit of room at the top.  On top of the cabbage, create a layer of the julienned Asian pears.

3.  When the pickling solution has cooled enough to be lukewarm to the touch, pour the solution over the herbs, cabbage, and Asian pear.  You can include all of the little bits in the solution, bay leaves and all.  The herbs, cabbage, and Asian pear should be completely submerged in the solution, so if you need more liquid, just add a bit of water to cover.  Place a lid on the container or wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator.  Let it sit for at least 2-3 days before serving, but it can keep for up to a week-and-a-half or so in the refrigerator.  (NOTE:  You could also take it through a canning process at this stage, but I don’t know enough about doing that yet to provide instructions.)

4.  When ready to serve, remove the cabbage and Asian pear from the pickling solution (a perforated spoon, a colander, or just lifting it out with clean hands works great for this…..) and place in a large stainless steel or glass bowl.  Toss with the poppyseeds and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and season to taste with salt & pepper.

Yield: Yield varies here depending on the size of the cabbage head primarily, but I usually get about 2 – 2 1/2 quarts of salad out of this recipe.

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