A reluctant soup convert falls for the humble cabbage

When comfort called, I used to reach for anything other than soup, but now even ugly ones get my love

Published January 11, 2011 1:45AM (EST)

I wasn't always a soup girl.

When comfort called, I reached for the mac 'n' cheese, a microwave burrito, or maybe just a good old PB&J. Soup seemed so ... boring ... virtuous even, hence, not for me. I needed my comfort food to come in quick and cheap packages. It makes me wonder what, exactly, I ate during all those New England winters in college and law school, and then the grey winter (and sometimes spring) months throughout the rest of my 20s in upstate New York. Now that I love making and eating soup, crave it on a regular basis in the winter especially, those other comfort foods pale in comparison.

It started innocently enough. First, I was gifted a beautiful and long- coveted five-quart Dutch oven. Next, I realized how easy it was to make my own stock. Before I knew it, I was browning onions, chopping celery leaves, adding plops of tomato paste here, a spoonful of pesto there. It seemed that once I got the basics down, soup could become anything that I wanted, dictated by whims or what was simply around. Harissa could be substituted for tomato paste, chickpeas for navy beans. I think more than anything else, making soup alone, without bespattered printed-off pages from Epicurious or the latest artisan cookbook, made me stop over-thinking so I could enjoy the process and as a result, care for myself in a way that didn't even occur to me in my younger years. (It doesn't hurt that most soup is incredibly forgiving and can be quickly remedied with some crusty bread and a few peels of pecorino).

The soup I'm going to tell you about today took a while for me to come around to. When I first saw "Humble Cabbage" up on the menu board at a cafe near work, I rolled my eyes and promptly left in search of a panini or something. The name itself just did not muster lunchtime allegiance. Instead, "humble" and "cabbage" in the same name conjured up images of my potato peeling, cabbage boiling, foremothers squatting over a pot of watery broth in a thatched cottage. Besides, food names with virtues included are generally things I try to avoid.

BUT ... I did try it. Short on time and options, I ordered a small cup for the first time a few weeks ago. I looked down and saw a few lumpy pieces of ground turkey bobbing around the cabbage-strewn broth. This is not looking promising I thought. BUT ... the first slurp had me. The translucent cabbage balanced so nicely with the tomatoes, the turkey added substance, seasoned lightly with thyme and pepper. Before I knew it the cup was empty and I sat gazing out the window at the blowing, shimmering snow wondering what took me so long to give this ugly soup a chance.

The recipe below is my recreation of the soup I had on that snowy afternoon.

Humble cabbage soup

Serves 6-8, or makes lunches for a whole week for 1, if you are like me.


  • 1 pound of ground turkey
  • 1 medium onion cut into half moons
  • ½ medium head of green cabbage, shredded
  • 28 ounces chopped tomatoes (canned is fine)
  • A few healthy pinches of fresh or dried thyme
  • 5-6 cups of vegetable or meat stock (I like "Better Than Bouillon" if homemade is not happening)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil and a pat of good butter (I like Lurpak and Kerrygold)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, break it up with the back of a spoon, season generously with salt and pepper and cook until brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add a pat of butter to the same pot and add onions, cooking until softened. Add cabbage and tomatoes, season with thyme, salt and pepper, and cook, partially covered, over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until the cabbage has begun to soften.
  3. Return meat to the pot along with the cabbage mixture and add stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down to a simmer for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve with toasted, buttered rye bread.

By Trish O'Rourke

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