It’s been a really mild and easy January so far. We’ve only got about three inches of snow on the ground from yesterday’s snowfall, the first snow of 2018. The road is pretty clear. The temperature is hovering around zero when we get up in the mornings, which is at least 10 degrees warmer than usual in January. We haven’t even put the second duvet on our bed yet. And we’ve only had three (short) power cuts so far this month, which is GFB (good for Bulgaria).
So why do I still feel the usual January bleurgh? Why do I feel such a strong compulsion to sleep the month away? Last Sunday I was in such a funk that, if we hadn’t had plans to go and see friends, I seriously would have gone back to bed. This is not normal behaviour for someone over the age of 14.
I should be using January to learn more Bulgarian. I should be writing a book. Even reading a book, any book, would be a much better use of my spare time than binge-watching Veep while wondering how early I can justify going to bed.
Two things give me hope that I’m not regressing to a moody, bed-obsessed teenager and that I will, in fact, come out of this January funk and return to my usual, excellent, mature and very modest self in February. One of those things is exercise, which I realise is a terrible January cliché, but essential after eating one’s own body weight in pastry over Christmas. (We’ve started swimming at a hotel that, in a Bulgarian, 1980s, marble-and-brass kind of way, is actually pretty fancy. It’s a treat I really look forward to every week.)
The other thing is cabbage.
Yes, we’ve become obsessed with the Scandi-style pickled red cabbage that we had with our Christmas dinner, and I heartily recommend you do the same. Spoon it straight from the fridge into your gob for a satisfyingly cold and crunchy snack, or let a bowlful come to room temperature to serve alongside a meal. It works with anything – roast dinner, pie, quiche, veggie sausages, cheese and biscuits, sandwiches, you name it. You NEED this in your fridge right now.
Best of all, inspired by something we had at Made in Blue in Sofia, we turned the last of the cabbage into an amazing winter coleslaw with broccoli and carrot. Trust me, it’s worth making the cabbage just so you can have the coleslaw.
To make the must-have pickled red cabbage…
This fills a big jar – one of those giant tahini jars you get in Middle Eastern shops. If you’re working with regular pickle jars, you’ll probably need two, maybe three of them (and you might need to increase the pickling liquid). Do not be alarmed by the thought of having multiple jars of pickled cabbage in your fridge. Just go with it.
- Take half a small red cabbage and slice it really thinly, ideally with a mandolin. Do the same with a large red onion.
- Put the cabbage and onion in a bowl, sprinkle over 1 tsp salt, toss it all together and set aside for 20 minutes.
- Wash and sterilise your jar(s). (Actually the recipe we sort-of followed didn’t say to sterilise jars; it just said to use a clean container. The choice is yours.)
- Put the following in a small saucepan and bring to the boil: 200ml water; 200ml red wine vinegar; one red chilli (leave it whole); 75g brown sugar; and 2 allspice berries. (The recipe also said to add 2 juniper berries, but we didn’t have any so I just sloshed in a bit of gin, figuring it would do trick. And it did!) Once the sugar has dissolved into the liquid, take the pan off the heat.
- Rinse the cabbage and onion under cold water in a colander.
- Stir some freshly chopped dill and chopped walnuts through the drained cabbage/onion mixture. (Use as much dill as you can bear – like, most of a bunch – and as many walnuts as you can be arsed to chop.)
- Pack the cabbage, dill and walnuts into the jar(s) and cover with the warm vinegar solution (bung in the bits floating in the vinegar, too).
- Store in the fridge. The recipe said it would keep for a week or so, but we were still happily eating it three weeks later. And we didn’t die.
To make the best winter coleslaw ever…
- Fork out some of the herby cabbage and walnuts into a bowl. It’s good if a bit of the vinegary liquid comes out with it, but you don’t want it swimming in a lake of vinegar.
- Add a thinly sliced carrot and some broccoli that’s been chopped into bitesize pieces.
- I added some dried cranberries, but you could use sliced or grated apple if that’s easier. You just want something that’ll give the odd fruity spike.
- Slosh in a load of olive oil. With the vinegar that’s already coating the cabbage, it makes a nice vinaigrette dressing.
- Re-season with salt and pepper to taste.
- You could top with toasted seeds or more nuts if you’re feeling a bit food wankery, but it’s lovely without.
- Enjoy immediately. Preferably not in bed.