I know what some of you are saying. “Two soups in a row? What is this?!”
Friends, I will tell you what this is. This is called February in
the Arctic Chicago. It’s really cold. All the time. Not the kind of duh-it’s-winter cold, but the kind of cold that precludes you from leaving the house some days and makes you want to hibernate on your couch until March. Or April, more likely. It’s weather that calls for a lot of soup.
And this soup is actually two things in one. It starts off as my new favorite way to cook red cabbage. And then, after that, it becomes one of my new favorite soups. Isn’t that cool? That’s about as much multi-tasking as I can handle when the air doesn’t budge above 0 degrees for weeks at a time.
I’m going to preface my description of this soup by stating that I’ve never been a huge red cabbage fan. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. A few summers ago, I discovered that it made a great slaw when combined with a honey mustard vinaigrette, but beyond that, it didn’t do much for me. Certainly not any of the warm varieties. Do you want to guess who changed my thinking on that? Do I even need to tell you?
Marcella Hazan. That woman. Genius. She never steers me wrong. If you do not have a copy of Essential of Italian Cooking, I highly suggest you get one. Like, immediately. Ok, after you make this soup.
Anyway, a while back, I discovered a very sad-looking red cabbage in the back of my fridge that had been neglected in favor of more appealing vegetables until then. If I didn’t use it, I’d lose it. And anyone who knows me knows that that wasn’t really an option. Luck has it that I had been flipping through Hazan’s book earlier that day and thought I remembered seeing a cabbage recipe. I looked back in the book and found it: Smothered Cabbage. Sounded simple enough, and I had all the ingredients (just some garlic, onions, vinegar). Why not? I’m so glad I gave this a shot. It was so good I gobbled up half of it immediately, and then we gobbled up all the rest for dinner that night. It was addictively good. Red cabbage. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.
Then, when I realized Marcella had a soup recipe to use up the leftover cabbage, I had to go out and buy more cabbage. (And honestly, my first thought was that there would never be any leftovers of this cabbage.) I then cooked up another batch of the smothered cabbage and proceeded to turn it into this Smothered Cabbage and Rice Soup.
Now, I totally understand that a soup made of cabbage and rice doesn’t exactly sound drool-worthy. It kind of evokes an image of a scrawny orphan asking, “Please sir, I’d like some more?” But something about this soup is so delicious and different and filling that you’ll forget its humble beginnings. First of all, it’s purple. The silliest, craziest, most unexpected color you can imagine for soup. But in the middle of the winter, who wouldn’t swoon at a big beautiful bowl of dusky purple broth? It’s gorgeous. Second, the flavor is rich and intense. Good, flavorful beef stock is important, because not only does it make up the broth, but also because the rice and cabbage soak up all the flavors in it while cooking. It balances the sweetness of the cabbage and melds perfectly with the onion and garlic flavors you’ve already slow-cooked into the cabbage. The rice thickens the broth, but still keeps its own identity and a little bit of chewy texture, which I really like.
I did veer away from the original recipe here, just a bit. Instead of using arborio rice, which I didn’t have (it’s expensive!), I used some delicious high-quality basmati rice. I also added some water to the beef broth. I did this because the original soup would have been more like a very thin risotto really, and that wasn’t what I was going for this time. Although I’m sure that would have been delicious. Even with my changes, this soup is by no means “thin”, just not quite as thick as it would have been. As I ladled bowl after bowl from the dwindling leftovers in the refrigerator, it got thicker and thicker, which I didn’t mind at all. It is wonderful in all of its incarnations.
Smothered Cabbage and Rice Soup
thanks to Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking
You don’t have to use red cabbage in this recipe- any kind of cabbage works perfectly well. But the red cabbage is what gives the soups that glorious purple color that I’ll remember it for. Besides that, this recipe shook me out of my red cabbage rut, for which I will be eternally grateful.
2 lbs cabbage, shredded finely
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
3 cups beef broth (homemade is best!)
2 cups water
2/3 cup rice (I used Basmati)
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large high-sided saute pan, cook the onion and olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring often until they have begun to develop a golden color. Add the garlic and cook for another few minutes, until it is barely golden, then add in the shredded cabbage. Stir the cabbage until it is well coated with the oil and onions, and cook until it is wilted, stirring occasionally.
Once the cabbage has wilted a bit, season with salt and pepper and add the vinegar. Mix well. Lower the heat to low and cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for at least 1 1/2 hours, until tender. If the cabbage starts to dry out at any point, you can add a few tablespoons of water, but you shouldn’t have to.
<At this point, congratulations, you have smothered cabbage! Serve this as it is as a side dish and no one will complain. Enjoy! To continue on to the soup, read on…>
Once the cabbage is tender, add beef broth and 2 cups of water into the pan and bring to a boil. Add the rice. Cook uncovered, on medium heat (a low boil), about 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender. If by the time the rice is done the soup is too thick for your liking, you can add a bit more water or broth. When the rice is done, stir in the butter and grated Parmesan, along with more salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve, with a little extra sprinkle of Parmesan, if you’d like.