My grandmothers on both sides of my family had a thing for cabbage. Both decedents from Eastern Europe, cabbage was an easy to grow, hearty, wintertime staple; helping to keep costs down and tummies filled up. Both grandmothers, learning the recipes by way of their own mothers, usually paired the cabbage with something heavy and slightly rich like beef, either a deep rich broth made mostly from beef bones or off cuts, or minced and mixed in with rice (equally economical and filling) along with other spices, stuffed into the larger cabbage leaves. Both methods were satisfying and warming, perfect for long cold winter nights, as well as economical, making sure to use up every edible scrap left in the house; a necessity during both of their childhoods.
Now that winter’s harshest days seem to be aaaalllllmost past us (I’m ignoring that white powder that was sprinkled onto our garden last night) and we aren’t eating two thirds of our meals in the dark, I’ve attempted to reflect that change and let the light and freshness of spring’s edge influence my cooking. Cabbage and apple pair incredibly well together, and having both sitting in my refrigerator longing to be used up, this seemed like the perfect way to serve something warm yet fresh; an equal part homage to my grandmothers and their wonderful use of cabbage. In both of their recipes, they used sweet and sour flavours to help brighten what could have otherwise been very dull and one-note dishes, so I did same with mine. The apple provides a hit of sweet and fresh, yet still slightly tart flavours, accentuated by a little glug of apple cider vinegar, and a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses. A tin of butter beans tossed into the pot for the last few minutes of cooking turns the soup into a light and refreshing meal, alongside a good and earthy crusty bread swiped with a bit of salted butter.
Cabbage and Apple Spring Soup
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 white onion, peeled and finely diced
1 head savoy cabbage, thinly sliced with thick stems removed *I like to put my shredded cabbage into a large colander in the sink, generously sprinkled with salt and let it sit for a few minutes to drain off excess moisture and help balance the flavour. If you do this make sure to rinse your cabbage leaves under the tap afterwards so as not to over season your soup!
3 tart green apples, peeled and diced
1 tsp dried thyme (or a few stalks of fresh if you have!)
1L chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp blackstrap molasses
1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar (depending on taste)
1 tin butter beans or beans of your choice, drained and rinsed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Set a large heavy bottomed pot over a medium heat, adding in your olive oil and butter. Once the butter has melted, add in your diced onions and cook until softened and translucent. Next add in your shredded cabbage, give it a few good stirs, then add in the apple and thyme. Stir it again, cover with a lid and let the fruit and veg cook down for 15 minutes or so, stirring intermittently to make sure nothing burns.
Once your apple has started to break down and your cabbage soften, add your stock, molasses and vinegar, cover with the lid and let the soup continue to cook for a further 15-20 minutes.
Lastly, add in your beans, cover for a further 5-10 minutes, taste for seasoning and serve with some freshly ground black pepper.