Lessons from Cabbage Casserole

It is amazing the things that you can learn from a single meal. My wife’s favorite dish, which I have been commanded to make weekly, is my cabbage casserole. A dear friend of ours, who is staying with us for a few weeks, loves it as well. The best part about making this casserole, which by the way is not my favorite, is the look on their faces. Sometimes it looks like they are having orgasms in their mouth. I know that look because I have had that experience as well. My guess is that you know that experience as well. You develop an emotional reaction and relationship to this dish that surpasses description. I have several, but one of mine would be a jalapeno bagel with lox and cream cheese.  But that is another reflection, back to the cabbage casserole.

Watching them last night as the two of them nearly finished off a casserole that was supposed to serve 6-8 (lol); I had a series of epiphanies. The first one had to do with my own enlightenment and I began thinking about a conversation Ram Das once had with his teacher. It goes something like this:

Ram Das:         “How will I know God?”
Teacher:          “Feed people.”
Ram Das:         “How will I become enlightened?”
Teacher:          “Serve them.”

So here I was feeding and serving people. Watching them, I too was having my own spiritual experience. It was not from eating the food, it was from serving them and watching them eat. It was the understanding, one more time, that food is far more then just what is on the plate. It is a story of love, culture, heritage, and relationships. It can become a story of sacrifice and mindfulness as we begin to realize how each of those simple ingredients that we used came to us and all those who gave of their time, talents, and energies so that we could even begin to fix this dish.

As they talked about the meal, it struck me how they both appreciated different qualities in it.  Our friend talked about the richness of the dish, something I had never noticed before. My wife talked about how the kind of cabbage I used and the way I cut the cabbage kept the experience of eating it fresh. It becomes a living meal. Every time I prepare it, there is something old and something new she enjoys. Thus far, I have made it using green cabbage, red cabbage and savoy cabbage. I have been told I can never use the savoy again. She does not like the wrinkles. Oh yes, one day I even used bagged coleslaw mix.  There have been times when I have shredded the cabbage in the food processor and other times I have made a more rustic cut. None of that really matters; the overall experience is still the same.  There have only been two times I have made this dish that she has not liked it. Once when I used breadcrumbs on top, as the original recipe called for, and the time I used that “wrinkly cabbage.” We have to pay attention to those things that do not speak to our palettes and we should be mindful that although the ingredients might change slightly (green or red cabbage, shredded or rustic chop), the ultimate experience remains the same.

Their discussion of the meal reminded me of my own spiritual and cooking evolution. There was a time in my life when my understanding of “God” was limited to what I read in a sacred text. It was probably about the same time I thought there was “a way” to cook a dish. But as they say at the end of one of my favorite films, The Never Ending Story, that is another story for another day.

photography by Zoe DavisUntil then, I hope you enjoy my wife’s favorite cabbage casserole. 

Ingredients: (lots of choices here)

1 lb ground whatever (beef, turkey, chicken, pork, lamb, veal, etc.). I use 1 package of vegetarian crumble

1 onion, finely chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 head of cabbage chopped, sliced, or shredded (whatever you are feeling at the moment) or at least 2 bags of pre-shredded if you are not feeling the chopping thing

About 1 cup of sour cream

And probably about 2 cups of cheddar cheese (or whatever you are feeling at the moment)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brown your whatever with the onions and the garlic in a Dutch oven. 

If you are like me and use the vegetarian crumble or rehydrated tvp, then add some butter to the pan along with the garlic and onions and crumble to replace the fat from the meat.

Once the onions soften, add the cabbage, and cover until soft.

Remove from heat and add sour cream and about ½ the cheese. Adjust to your own level of richness J

Pour into a casserole dish or just use your Dutch oven and smooth out the surface, if you like.

Then cover with remaining cheese and bake for about 30 minutes. 

Give it a few minutes to rest before serving. 

My wife says it gets better with each day, but it has never lasted in our frig for more then the 2nd day.