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Meatless Monday: Food Festival

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MEATLESS MONDAY

Well, it's over -- South Beach Wine and Food Festival had its faaaabulous tenth anniversary and rumor has it, is going to decamp to Los Angeles. Where, I'm sorry, it belongs. The festival has become less about food than it has about glitz, celebs, nips and tucks, limos, wretched excess and high-ticket, high-on-the-hog events. Or should I say hogs. They were served up at at Paula Deens' sausage-studded Sunday brunch and at Perrier-Jouet's Bubble Q -- barbecue and champagne -- along with veal, beef, chicken lamb and fish. Burgers starred along with Rachael Ray at Burger Bash. I do love a party, but the food festival has as much to do with the way I want to eat as Real Housewives of Miami have to do with me. And yet, when I can come at this as my best and biggest self, I believe the festival folk and I have something primal in common -- the desire to celebrate what we eat. We just eat very different things.

I celebrate the food of the earth -- fresh produce, legumes and whole grains. I celebrate the food of the season. Even in March, when what's in season is cabbage.

Okay, cabbage, does not have the buzz of booze, cigars and Guy Fieri, but it's a party in its own right. It is a food of sustenance. It helped keep our forebears alive, and that's worth celebrating -- else none of us would be here. Back before out-of-season eating became the new normal, cabbage was one of the few fresh green vegetables you could count on in the heart of winter. Its dense, furled leaves meant you could store it for weeks, even months, without refrigeration. This was good, because refrigeration hadn't come along yet.

Cabbage is also a food of generosity. One head yields a mountain of shredded goodness. It's sky-high in vitamins K, A and C, rich in fiber and folate, it also has calcium for sturdy bones, antioxidants to keep cancer far away, it even contains protein. What else can offer you so much nutrition for so little money? You could have dropped $500 for South Beach Wine and Food's Tribute to Alain Ducasse, and I'm sure you and Ducasse would have had a good time (at least you should have, at that price). On the other hand, I believe good food should be accessible to everyone.

With cabbage, you don't need to pay a fortune to be part of the celebration. What you have to pay is attention. Conscious eating often sounds like work, and honey, I know you've had enough of that. But it has its rewards. If you pay attention, when you take a bite of cabbage, you get that vegetal crunch, sure, but you also get that whisper of sweet apple and smoky sauvignon blanc, the mineral tang of the soil where it grew and the water that nurtured it. What you're tasting is what the wine guys call terroir, the characteristics of place, of source that feeds and informs the food that feeds you.

And if you're open to it, you can even taste poetry. Carl Sandburg's "Nocturne Cabbage" makes the lowly vegetable lovely. "In the night the cabbages catch at the moon, the leaves drip silver, the rows of cabbages are series of little silver waterfalls in the moon."

Until that magical day when plant-based food and poetry bump out pork and parties, meatless meals that preserve the planet and inspire art are still worth celebrating. It's the difference between elaborate and elemental. Faaabulous.

Wine-Braised Cabbage with Apples and Caraway

I hope cabbage conjures silvery waterfalls and food festivals for you. But perhaps your first frame of reference is a plate of something limp, watery and not at all fragrant. Cabbage often suffers from overcooking, and we suffer right along with it. A simple braise or quick saute keeps cabbage's color intact and lets its mild sweetness shine. So does adding a splash of something bright with acidity -- lemon juice, vinegar or wine, as with this winter-to-spring warm cabbage salad.

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
4 cups cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded (about half a head of cabbage)
1 tart apple such as Granny Smith or Jonathan, sliced thin
1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon honey or agave
3 tablespoons white raisins or dried cranberries
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.

Place walnuts in a shallow baking pan and toast for 8 minutes, or until nuts just brown and smell buttery. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add caraway seeds and stir for a minute, or until seeds start to sizzle and release their zingy scent.

Add shredded cabbage by the handful and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, until cabbage wilts. Add the sliced apple and the wine. Continue cooking for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the cabbage and apple are al dente, but not not mushy and most of the wine has cooked off. Add the honey or agave to balance flavor and the white raisins or cranberries.

Season with sea salt and a grinding or two of fresh pepper. Top with chopped walnuts and enjoy.

Serves 4, but doubles super-easily and does nicely for a party. Shredded cabbage is edible confetti.

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