It's interesting for me to even consider making a dish like stewed cabbage. As I grew up in Romania, I can say that stewed cabbage plays an integral part of the traditional cuisine. This is not true just for the countryside, but this dish is well known, easy to make and very loved in all corners in the country. Whether you live in the countryside or in the heart of the city, as a Romanian, you will know what stewed cabbage is. In fact, I bet that for many Romanians stewed cabbage is a nostalgic childhood dish, usually served with smoked sausage, red onion and white crusty bread. Cheap, reliable, easy to make and highly nutritious, you can see why this made it to the list of traditional Romanian dishes.
Some people like to add smoked meats to the stewed cabbage recipe, whereas others prefer the vegan, authentic way of making this dish: free from gluten, meat or any dairy.
So, what makes this dish so special? How to make stewed cabbage and why I'm only just rediscovering the roots of traditional Romanian recipes.
A Traditional Romanian Dish
Cabbage plays an important role in Romanian cuisine. We use it for stewing, for pickling, and for our famed rolled cabbage dish (recipe to follow shortly). Cabbage is cheap and full of vitamins and nutrients. In fact, we know that cabbage is used for home remedies and sometimes even used as a tea. The juice from pickled cabbage is known to be very healthy and used even in countries like Germany and sometimes bought as a souvenir.
Traditionally, stewed cabbage is a vegan dish made with very basic ingredients. Nutritious and cheap, stewed cabbage it's a perfect recipe to stay healthy and save money. It's also incredibly quick and easy to make. All you need is a sharp knife and a deep pan with a cover on it. When put on the hob, the cabbage leaves its own juices in the pan, which means you don't need to add any water to it. The taste is sweet and delicious and the dish itself is very filling.
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The more modern version of the stewed cabbage contains what in Romania we called "smoked items". This is usually smoked rib or smoked sausage. This meat is usually cut into tiny cubes and added to the cabbage during the stewing process so the dish becomes more flavoursome with a smokey taste.
As Yuzu Bakes is a vegan recipe blog, we are going to focus on the authentic way of making stewed cabbage: with no meat or dairy, but the wholefood version which contains only cabbage, a bell pepper, an onion, a tomato and some tomato paste. For those who love a vegan dish with a modern twist, I added a special ingredient to the list so you can enjoy a deeper flavour: liquid smoke.
Stewed Cabbage Recipe
I love making stewed cabbage because it's quick and easy and you literally don't require any special cooking skills. While I'm well versed in Western European dishes, I always had difficulties making traditional Romanian foods. It's a little insult to my heritage, I know. But, I left when I was just a teenager and moved to Britain to study. So while I grew up eating Romanian food which my family made with love, I never really went through the "making traditional dishes" transition period. As a student, I started making Western dishes right away and had a more Western diet. As time passed, I never quite missed Romanian food so didn't learn how to make them nor tried to add them as part of my diet.
But as time passed and the older I got some sort of interesting curiosity sparked. I believe this also ties in with the idea that the Western diet is not known to be the healthiest, especially as almost everything is ready-made, microwavable or processed food. So the moment I transitioned into veganism and then wholefoods, my interest went back to the type of dishes you can cook using whole ingredients. This is when I realised that a lot of traditional Romanian food and Eastern European food in general, celebrates vegetables and whole ingredients. Stewed cabbage is a good example of a simple ingredient transformed into a delicious dish full of vitamins.
While nowadays a lot of Eastern European dishes appear to be meat-heavy, this wasn't always the case. In fact, back in the days, meat was a scarce resource and people used it as such: shavings of meat in the stews, chicken bones to intensify the flavour of the soup and so on. If you go back to the roots and find out the real way traditional recipes were, you'll find that meat was rarely part of them, and it was most certainly never the star attraction of any authentic dish.
To make stewed cabbage, all you need to know is the secret: keep the cabbage covered at all times, mix it with a wooden spoon every 10 minutes or so to ensure it doesn't stick to the pan, and don't add any water to it. The cabbage will cook in its own juices.
Now that you know the secret, I believe you are ready to make the coolest stewed cabbage recipe and enjoy it times and times again.
Tip: want to be Romanian about it? Eat the stewed cabbage with raw red onion and white crusty bread on the site. That's the traditional way of eating this delicious, vegan recipe.
This recipe has been developed entirely by Yuzu Bakes. Any resemblance with other recipes is purely coincidental.