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Ugly food needs love too: Russian Cabbage with Tomatoes and Sour Cream

Russian Cabbage with Tomatoes and Sour Cream

I’m well aware this isn’t the prettiest dish I’ve ever posted here. In fact, you’re probably navigating away from this screen right now. But before you do, consider this: you must have a favourite “ugly” dish or ingredient, right? Something you love eating, but would never blog about or serve to company, due to its less-than-lovely appearance?

Well, cabbage is my aesthetically-guilty pleasure. Sure it’s pretty when raw: all green and crinkly and wrapped up like a present, but it tends to lose something on the cooking. Unless you’re simply boiling and buttering it (fantastic as a side, I recommend it), cooked cabbage can often look pale, limp and unappetizing, however delicious it may be. Case in point: I’ve bought cabbage at the market, oh, umpteen times since I started this blog, but only posted a recipe containing it once. (What, you can’t see the cabbage in that dish? Funny, that.)

But this dish, unattractive as it is, was so good that I couldn’t not share. Straight out of my favourite cookbook, this recipe is far greater than the sum of its parts. In truth, I only chose it because it contained two things I’d bought at the market last weekend (cabbage and tomatoes), and therefore seemed economical. But as soon as I began to cook it, with its delicious scent wafting about the kitchen, I knew I was on to a winner.

tomatoes and cabbage

A straightforward sautée of Savoy cabbage and fresh tomatoes, this dish is flavoured with whole cumin seeds and made delicously rich with sour cream. Mark claims its origins are in Russia, but no amount of Googling could verify this. (If any Russian foodies are reading this, help me out! Is this authentic at all, or is Mark pulling our collective leg?)  

I lunched on a small bowl of this as-is, but I bet it would go well with brown rice, or as a side to some meat. I won’t hold it against you if you opt not to serve this dish at your next dinner party, but please, just try it. After all, ugly food needs love too.

Russian Cabbage with Tomatoes and Sour Cream

  • Russian Cabbage with Tomatoes and Sour Cream
  • adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
  • serves 2; easily doubled
  • 1 Tbs. butter
    1 small garlic clove, minced
    1/2 an onion, chopped finely
    1/2 tsp. cumin seeds 
    3 cups shredded Savoy cabbage (about 1/4 of a large head, 1/2 of a smaller one) 
    1/3 cup stock or water
    1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
    1/4 cup sour cream
    sea salt and black pepper
  • 1. Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan that has a lid, over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and cook until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and cook for another minute. 

    2. Add the shredded cabbage and cook for a few minutes until it begins to brown. Add the stock, cover and cook for another 8-10 minutes or so, until the cabbage is tender. 

    3. Remove the lid, turn up the heat slightly and add the chopped tomatoes, along with a sprinkling of salt. Cook, stirring frequently for another 8-10 minutes, until the tomatoes have completely broken down and become sauce-like. 

    4. Add the sour cream and heat through for a minute or two, stirring near constantly. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot. 


  1. MH says:

    Ok so totally reminds me a bit of Mary Patrick’s cabbage rolls with the tomato and cabbage combo, so then I might be inclined to believe the Eastern Euro roots. Next time she makes it remind me to give you some of MP’s “kapusta” you cabbage lover, you. We grew up on this stuff (thinking it was gross the whole time) but I think you would love it. Save the delicious addition of bacon.

  2. F. says:

    I think this may turn into my new favourite comfort food… I can’t wait to try it. Thanks for sharing this one.

  3. Kalyn says:

    It sounds delicious to me, and I often add cabbage to goulash, so this seems like a great combination.

  4. Ele says:

    MH- I’m convinced you’d love cabbage if I could make you some! Obviously you weren’t crazy about your grandma’s kapusta, no kid likes cabbage! I bet you’d like mine, though (even without the bacon).

    F- It’s very comforting, true!

    Kalyn- Oh, I can’t really make goulash because of the meat, but that sounds great.

  5. THB says:

    Just got off a Russian ship where we had RED cabbage almost every meal – well, not breakfast – in various guises. But we never got borscht , we think the crew might have. Perhaps we did not get it because the chef was from the River cafe in Calgary?
    Anyway, red cabbage may work well in this recipe, the garlic, onion and sour cream are already there, not sure about the tomatoes?

  6. Ele says:

    Dad- I’m not sure I’m crazy about red cabbage, yet. I’ll have to try some this winter and see. I also don’t think I’ve ever had borscht!

  7. F. says:

    I can’t get enough of this dish! I made it a few weeks ago and have been dreaming about it ever since. The friend I made it for went home, looked it up and has also been making it regularly since first having it at my place. This has become a winter (yes, winter, as I write this it is snowing outside!) staple around my place. To make it a guilt free indulgence I’m now using plain yogurt instead of sour cream. I love this dish so much I can’t imagine life without it :)

  8. Ele says:

    Fi, you have GOT to be joking me- snowing already!?? Wow. Well, it’s a good thing you’ve got this to warm you up, then! xo

  9. So yummy and comforting! I made a version of this last night! Just needed a bowl of borscht on a cold and rainy night.