Boy! Was I in luck today. I’m doing a freelance piece on Portuguese cabbage (aka couves, sea cabbage, kale), a cousin of kale, but not the rippled-leaf kind you see in the markets. Once, every Portuguese garden had a row of this open-headed cabbage because it’s used in many dishes. Unfortunately, just before I set about doing the story, I had stripped my cabbage plants to make grelos, stir-fried cabbage with garlic. The stalks look very sad and naked. Where would I find a cabbage to photograph?
Then I remembered that the Oahu Urban Garden Center in Pearl City, home of the volunteer Master Gardeners, has them; I once wrote about them for the Advertiser and caused a stampede of hungry Portuguese to buy them. I called to check and they said yes they have them but I’d better get down there soon because they’re having a big sale this Saturday and they’ll all be gone.
About the sale: It’s in celebration of Arbor Day and opens at 7 a.m. People line up before that (shades of the KCC Farmers Market). They’re selling a trayful of young cabbage for $1 each. Every family who wants one will be able to get a free fruit tree. There will be Hawaiian peppers, Meyer lemons and other hard-to-find plants. The center is on Kamehameha Highway next to and behind the Home Depot store. But here’s the tricky part: to get to it, you have to be going diamondhead on Kamehameha. If you’re coming from townside just overshoot it, turn left as if you’re going to LCC, turn left onto Kamehameha again, go past Home Depot and you’ll see the sign in a corner of a parking lot of the diamondhead Home Depot building.
I stopped in at the field office to find out where the cabbage was in the garden — a lovely, peaceful, well-ordered green place and worth a visit even if there isn’t a sale on (wear mud shoes) — and found all the Master Gardeners sharing a potluck lunch, many made with healthful vegetables grown in the gardeners’ own yards.
Friendly Ruby Bussen offered to take me to the cabbage and we hopped into a sort of golf course contraption and headed out. After I shot my pictures, she insisted that I come back for a bite.
I tried three dishes and they were great: pickled mustard cabbage, a succotash made with edamame instead of lima beans, and garlic rice.
Iyseas “Icy” Lea was generous with the mustard cabbage recipe. I don’t usually care much for mustard cabbage but this was delicious. She said it was a sort of Chinese tsukemono and it is; it has that sort of sweet and sour thing going on. Tofu adds protein and cherry tomatoes color.
Pickled Mustard Cabbage
1 1/2 pounds mustard cabbage
1/2-1 cup brown sugar or equivalent agave syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sherry (optional)
1 block firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes and deep-fried, baked or sauteed
A handful of halved cherry tomatoes
First, wilt the mustard cabbage. “In the old days,” Lea said, “we hung it on the clothesline.” Today, she just leaves it on the kitchen counter for a day or so. Wilting helps it absorb the marinade.
For the marinade, combine brown sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, remove from heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add cider vinegar, salt and sherry, if using. Stir well. Place the wilted mustard greens in a zippered plastic bag and pour the marinade over. Let it marinate at room temperature, turning the bag occasionally, for two days.
To make the salad, combine drained cabbage with tofu and tomatoes and toss gently.
I couldn’t get the recipe for the succotash, which contained edamame, corn and long beans cut into 1-inch lengths, because the woman who made it, Ethel Murata, was not there. It had a nice, light, creamy dressing: We think mayonnaise and milk might be involved, but not sure.
The garlic rice was just Japanese-style rice steamed with bits of sauteed garlic. I make a more complex one, Filipino-style, with onions as well as garlic.
Amy Teves, who has charge of the herb garden, said you never know what people will ask for (and generally they’ll ask for it out of season) but they do seem interested in Portuguese cabbage. It always sells when they have it.
It’s gonna sell to me. I’m going to head down there early on Saturday and see if I can score a couple of the babies to add to my “garden” (a line of pots along our front walkway — we have no yard).
Lucky, lucky day.