Eating Jewish: Savory cabbage strudel
As far as underrated vegetables go, cabbage is near the top of the list. People generally don't rhapsodize over cabbage like they do for fresh sweet corn or a juicy red tomato. Instead, cabbage causes people to think of a stinky over-cooked vegetable and, admittedly, I didn’t develop an appreciation for it until recently. It has since become one of my favorite vegetables.
I usually sauté cabbage until the edges become golden and crispy, then add soy sauce and siracha chili sauce to it. I think it is equally delicious as a stuffing in perogies or stewed along with other vegetables and served over couscous, in the Moroccan dish called "seven vegetable couscous." But once I learned that savory cabbage strudel is often served on Sukkot, I couldn’t pass up trying out this new (at least to me!) cabbage dish.
Sukkot is a festival of thanksgiving for the last major harvest of the agricultural year. This theme is reflected in the dishes served throughout the holiday that showcase the bounty of fruit and vegetables available at this time of year. A common characteristic of dishes gracing the Sukkot table are foods that are stuffed or filled, representing abundance, such as stuffed vegetables, filled pasta, and filled pastries or pies. Also, because meals are eaten in the sukkah to commemorate the protection of the Israelites during the forty-year transitional period in the wilderness, the dishes must be easy to transport out to the structure. This cabbage strudel is a traditional Ashkenazi Sukkot dish because not only can it be easily transported outside, but it is also comprised of a vegetable that was widely available to northern Ashkenazim and was a mainstay of their diet.
Prior to making this recipe, I had never eaten or come across a savory strudel. I usually thought of apple strudel when this pastry was mentioned. Yet, this cabbage strudel was a game-changer and from now on strudel won’t simply mean dessert to me. The most difficult part of making this dish is layering the phyllo dough, which is very fragile and has a tendency to rip. This step requires a little patience and care, and it’s okay if some of the dough rips a bit. Once the strudel is stuffed and rolled up, it’s baked until the phyllo dough is golden brown and extremely flaky. The resulting strudel is light and crispy on the outside with a tender cabbage and onion mixture inside. It can be served alongside soup or salad as a main course, or alone as an appetizer. Whichever way you choose to serve this, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed and you’ll be glad you gave this vegetable another try.
Adapted from this recipe for Hungarian Cabbage Strudel in the New York Times
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Half of a large head of savoy or green cabbage or a whole small head, cored and finely chopped/shredded as you would for coleslaw
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
7 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
Parchment paper and/or a non-stick baking mat
In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and sauté onions until they are translucent and tender. Add the cabbage and cook until it is tender, adding more olive oil to the pan if necessary. Season with salt and pepper, set aside and let cool to room temperature.
Heat oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a work surface, with the narrow end of the paper facing you. Place a piece of phyllo dough on the parchment paper (Being very careful when doing so, so as not to rip the dough. However, the phyllo dough is very fragile and little rips are bound to happen). Brush the entire sheet of dough with a little butter, top with another sheet of dough and repeat until all 7 sheets are buttered and stacked.
Place the cabbage mixture along the end closest to you, in a thick even layer about 2 inches wide, leaving a little room along the edges. Using the parchment paper in the same way you would roll sushi with a bamboo roller, roll the dough beginning with the end on which you placed the cabbage. As you go along, make sure that the dough is rolled to enclose the cabbage without the parchment paper.
Brush the top of the strudel with some melted butter and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until it is golden. It can be served hot or warm.