Tuesday, March 3, 2009

City Kitchen Chronicles: Not Your (Well, My) Grandma’s Cabbage Soup

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

My grandmother died a few years ago, and it’s interesting what bits of life remind me of her. Thanksgiving’s transitioned from a huge affair crammed into her studio apartment to a holiday I associate with cooking in my mother’s kitchen, and for Passover the family’s now scattered to all corners of the Earth. But some things still always remind me of her. Namely, Scrabble and cabbage soup.

Grandma was a FIERCE Scrabble player. I never actually went up against the woman myself, but when I was twelve or so I played against my cousin, whom she’d taught, and damn. I consider my self a pretty word-smart person, but I got my rear kicked but good. It was only after Scrabulous took over Facebook that I got a hang of the strategies of the game. Every time I kick some rear myself now, I think of Grandma and how proud she’d probably be.

And then there’s cabbage soup. I don’t remember Grandma being a major cook, but this recipe, like her Scrabble prowess, is famous within our family. I remember my mom making this soup, having somehow gotten the recipe off her mother-in-law, and though it’s probably been fifteen years, I still remember how great it was – an old-world recipe full of beef bones and soup-plumped raisins, it was delicious, sweet and savory and an effective way to get a seven-year-old to eat – even love eating – cabbage.

And so just like when I’m clicking virtual Scrabble tiles around the internet, when I make my cabbage soup I think of my Grandma. Other than being a soup with cabbage in it, it’s nothing like her recipe – it’s vegan, for starters, and sour and spicy. There’s no delicious marrow to suck out of bones, just cubes of baked tofu soaking up the broth. But still, when I ladle the cabbagey broth into a bowl, I think of her. The thought actually forms as a silent “Hey Grandma.” Cause it’s always nice, once in a while, just to say hey.

I found this soup on the inimitable Vegan Yum Yum. I believe it was the soup that inaugurated last winter’s new (and my first) soup pot. I made several batches over the course of the cold months, to the point that I was only not-sick enough of it by last week to bring it back for this year. Lolo at Vegan Yum Yum claims to have just, like, thrown this soup together – “Today I found myself with a cute little organic cabbage in my refrigerator, but not much else. I also had some baked tofu and some carrots, and after looking in the fridge a million times, I had an idea for a soup.” Um, okay, genius girl. This thrown-together experiment turned out to be hella delicious – a little sweet, a little sour, a little spicy (or more, if you’re of a stronger constitution than I), it’s a veritable party in your mouth. Full of veggies, free of bad stuff, cheap, delicious, and easy.

I’ve made a couple of changes to Lolo’s recipe – She calls for carrots, but I don’t like cooked carrots, so I leave those out. I can’t bear to dirty my food processor pureeing a can of tomatoes, and couldn’t find cheap crushed tomatoes, so some tomato paste plus extra water does the trick. I’ve previously made this recipe with store-bought baked tofu, but this time I used TheKitchn’s guidelines to bake my own. Not as flavorful as store-bought, but much cheaper, and still better than plain.

Hot and Sour Cabbage Soup
Serves 6. 
Adapted from Vegan Yum Yum

1 tbs oil
1 small onion, minced
1 small cabbage, about the size of a grapefruit, cored and shredded
1 small can (about 6 tbs) tomato paste
7 1/4 cups water
1 package of tofu, baked w/ 1/4 c tamari
1/4 cup tamari, low sodium
1/4 cup rice vinegar
4 tsp sugar
(or replace rice vinegar and sugar with 1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar)
1/2 - 1 tsp hot red chili flakes
1/2 tsp salt

1) In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion. Cook 6 to 10 minutes, until golden, stirring occasionally.

2) Add tomato paste to water, mixing well. (You can mix the paste into a smaller quantity of the water, say 1 cup, if that’s easier.)

3) Add tomato paste/water mix and cabbage to the pot and stir well.

4) Add tofu, tamari, vinegar, chili flakes and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover. Drop the heat to medium low. Simmer until cabbage is soft and ready to eat, about 20 minutes.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
6 SERVINGS: 174 calories, 7 g fat, $0.89

1 tbs oil: 120 calories, 13 g fat, $0.07
1 small onion, minced: 44 calories, 0 g fat, $0.30
1 small cabbage: 178 calories, 1 g fat, $1.20
1 small can (about 6 tbs) tomato paste: 81 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.79
7 1/4 cups water: calorie- fat- and cost-free
1 package of tofu, pressed and baked: 513 calories, 28 g fat, $1.85
(1 package tofu, 1/4 c tamari)
1/4 cup tamari: 43 calories, 0 g fat, $0.36
1/4 cup rice vinegar: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.65
4 tsp sugar: 65 calories, 0 g fat, $0.05
1/2 - 1 tsp hot red chili flakes: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
1/2 tsp salt: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 1044 calories, 42.5 g fat, $5.31
TOTAL/6: 174 calories, 7 g fat, $0.89

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Monica Shaw said...

What is it about Grandmas and Scrabble? I learned everything I know about triple word scores from my Grandma. Same with cabbage soup, though our family is Irish so it's all corned beef and cabbage, all the time (interspersed with potatoes). I've since gone vegetarian but haven't abandoned my love for cabbage. This soup is right up my alley. Mm, I can taste it now. You know what I bet would go down a treat - some fresh cilantro sprinkled on top. Oh yeah!

AJP said...

Yeah, my Grandma's a Scrabble genius, as was her mom. They had a Scrabble board that was on a lazy susan and rotated. Also, they made Ukrainian cabbage rolls we called "holupchi". Actually, I'd be interested in the meat version of the cabbage soup as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree with AJP I'd love to know the meat version of this soup as well.

Jaime said...

I'll see if my mom still has the recipe. It may not be cheap or healthy - I really have no idea - but I definitely remember it being good. I'll see what I can do.

alternakiddy said...

I came to check out this recipe after your cabbage post. This sounds really good, and it reminds me that, I too have a grandparent/cabbage affinity.

My grandpa, being German, and marrying my grandma, an Italian, put his little spin on dishes for special occasions.

For example, at Thanksgiving he'd always make braised red cabbage. When I started taking over Thanksgiving cooking, I found a recipe, and I make it too :)