Shchi - Russian cabbage stew

Shchi - Russian cabbage stew (June 24, 2014)

Many of us harbor traumatic cabbage memories; the overwhelming smell that triggers us to retch at the faintest whiff of boiled cabbage has been hardwired into our minds. As far as I can tell, that misguided disdain for cooked cabbage is rooted in its unpleasant smell. But today I write to promote a change in how we view this sulfur-rich vegetable. Adults embrace the smelly and crave the cruciferous. We do it for our colons: Cabbage is said to be a potent preventative for cancer (most specifically colorectal) and it assists our bodies in expelling environmental pollutants. (For a quick fix, saute the cabbage until the leaves are soft and then finish with salt.)

Cabbage plants thrive in cold weather, yielding fully grown heads in three months' time. Maryland-grown cabbage will likely come from the Eastern Shore and is available from late March through December. When searching for the right cabbage, look for a compact head that feels heavy for its size. You'll want your cabbage to "squeak" when rubbed up against another head.

The widespread use of cabbage in traditional and modern global cuisine proves that humans have long enjoyed consuming this crop. Koreans bury it in the ground for weeks, where it magically transforms into everyone's favorite condiment, kimchi. You'll be hard-pressed to find a populated region of the world that doesn't utilize cabbage.

I chose to make shchi, a traditional, no-frills cabbage stew from Russia. A bowl of shchi will set alight your taste buds, leaving you warm and relaxed like you've spent an evening at a Russian bathhouse. It's liquid satiety that's easy to prepare. Prijatnovo appetita!

Shchi (Russian cabbage stew)

INGREDIENTS

1 fresh pork hock (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)
1 small green cabbage (half of a large head), shredded
2 medium-sized carrots, shredded
1 onion, diced
10 ounces tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic
2 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoons dill
1 sprig of thyme (optional)
chives (optional)
salt

DIRECTIONS

Add pork hock or any other bone-in cut (but not poultry) to a large pot. Cover the meat with about 6 cups of water. Add more if necessary. Throw in half of the onion, as well as the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring water to a boil and adjust to simmer for 2-3 hours. Remove hock and strain the cooking liquid. Do not dispose of the cooking liquid.

While the hock is simmering, saute the shredded carrots with the rest of the onion in butter using a separate pan. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Remove meat from the bone and break apart into small pieces.

Add cabbage to the strained cooking liquid and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add sauteed carrots and onion, tomato puree and shredded pork. Simmer for a few more minutes before adding dill.

Serve in a deep bowl. Finish with a dollop of sour cream (or crème fraîche if you can find it) and chives.

Serves 6-8.