Slightly Sweet and Sour Cabbage
This recipe comes from Sara Yaech, a woman whom I met on a trip to Havana the week before Barack Obama visited Cuba. Descended on her father’s side from Turkish Jews who came from Istanbul to this Spanish-speaking country in the 1920s, Sara grew up with Turkish and Ladino food. An amazingly alive woman in her early 70s, Sara has always been the one to teach many of the now 600 or so Jewish women in Havana about their culinary past in the Sephardic synagogue (one of three in Havana today). Like many of the Cuban Jews descended from Bessarabia and Poland, she learned cooking from her grandmother and from her mother, who was descended from Jews who came to Cuba in the far past, perhaps those who came from Spain with Christopher Columbus after 1492, when Jews were often stowaways on the ships.
A few years ago, during a difficult period in Cuba, Sara’s joints started puffing up and she felt stiff and uncomfortable. Her doctor told her to change her diet from beans and rice, which she did, going directly back to the unprocessed Sephardic food of her ancestors. At a lunch in her garden, she served her own challah and a variety of eggplant dishes from a new book she wrote entitled Veinte Recetas de Berenjena (Twenty Eggplant Recipes)—“hummus” from eggplant, thin strips of eggplant with meat inside, a sweet eggplant purée with toasted coconut on the side—as well as a cabbage dish and wine made from the fruit growing in her garden. The food was delicious, but the salad made from cabbage, a universal ingredient that I saw everywhere in the Cuban kiosks that act as supermarkets, intrigued me as a symbolic Jewish food that really went around the world. In fact, Sara told me that once she made this dish for a Jewish woman from Russia who was delighted because her mother in Moscow made the very same sweet and sour dish. To show how very old this dish is, it swaps tamarind, the acid used by Sara’s ancestors until the advent of the tomato, for the tomato sauce.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- ½ sweet red pepper (175 grams), sliced thin
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
- 4 cups (400 grams) finely chopped cabbage, purple and/or white, thinly shredded
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons parsley
- Heat a sauté pan with the oil. Add the onion, pepper and garlic and sauté until the onion is golden. Then stir in the cabbage, brown sugar, salt, wine vinegar and tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has disappeared and the cabbage is soft. Adjust the seasonings and serve, sprinkled with the parsley.
- Note: For a beautiful visual effect, make this recipe twice—once with a purple cabbage and once with a white one. Then, just before serving, mix the two.
- Excerpted from KING SOLOMON’S TABLE by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.