Returning home after a few weeks away is always a bit of a tricky proposition. Vacations are wonderful, in that they give you a chance to break away from your everyday scenery and enjoy a new perspective on daily routines and living spaces, but this can make walking back into your same-old space a bit of a disappointment. (It is especially so if you come home to discover that your pantry has been overtaken by crawly white worms and moths, and are forced to forgo unpacking and do a pantry deep-clean on four hours of sleep. At least now I have a really spiffy-looking pantry.)
One thing I always look forward to after a trip is returning to the kitchen. On vacation, we tend to let loose a little (or a lot.) When I go home to Montreal, even if I give myself a pep talk ahead of time, I always end up overdoing it on baguettes, croissants and macarons. Which is lovely for a while, but by the end of the stay I start to long for quinoa and kale.
With a clean pantry, a restocked fridge, yesterday I was ready to cook. On the phone with my husband, listing for him our dinner options, he chose one of our signature dishes: "Cabbage and rice."
The tradition began years ago, after a Christmas visit to Abilene, Texas, with my husband's family. Located in West Texas, it is a drab, depressing place, with food options to match. We always return feeling bloated and gross. Inspired by a recipe found in a copy of Yoga Journal I'd brought along, on the way back we stopped at the store, picked up a cabbage, and came home to discover our new favorite meal.
This dish is much greater than the sum of its parts--although its parts are pretty awesome. We are huge fans of cabbage in this house, and who doesn't love rice and Indian spices? But there are even more reasons why this is the perfect coming-home dish: we almost always have the components of this meal in our house; it comes together very quickly and easily, which makes it ideal for the road-weary cook (both my husband and I can make it from memory); it is a simple, clean dish, a perfect counterbalance to the excesses of a trip. It also costs mere pennies to make, in case you overspent on pastries and come home with an empty wallet. But mostly, for us, it has become a tradition: it's the first thing we want to make and eat when we return from a trip, and its taste tells us that we are home again.
Cabbage & Rice
(from Yoga Journal, Feb 2008; recipe not found online)
In a large lidded pot or Dutch oven, heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use canola) until hot and almost smoking. Add 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds, close lid, reduce heat, and wait for the seeds to finish popping. Add half a green cabbage, sliced thinly, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage has cooked down and is caramelized to your liking. Serve over basmati rice. Home sweet home. Serves 2 generously, maybe with leftovers, depending on the size of your cabbage and of your appetite.