Cabbages or Butterflies?

Into the vegetable garden for a cabbage to make spicy cabbage and rice.  And yee-uch! My beautiful row of savoys is no more. I’ve been gloating over them for weeks, perfect tight globes securely swelling inside dark green, wavy edged, protectively tough, outer leaves. But the defence has been penetrated, the core s perforated.  Gardener’s hubris has been punished yet again.

perforated cabbage

I realise caterpillars have eaten through the outer leaves.  No – I didn’t keep checking for eggs.  And small slugs have slimed through the useful tunnels, and, oh yes, some still lurk just inside the mantle of the larder the green worlds so kindly provide.  Then, when I look for the fork to uproot and salvage what I can, I see the robin.

It’s perched on the fork handle, head tilted one way then the other; hurry up, find something for me to eat.  I reach for the handle and the bird flutters just a yard away, perches on a tomato support where it can keep a close eye on what I dig up.

Useless bird!  It won’t eat slugs, snails or caterpillars.  Just watches for worms.  That’s all I see blackbirds and robins catching in our garden.  Feathered vandals hopping across the grass with beakfuls of worms.  And vandals isn’t too harsh.  Have you ever weeded and tidied a narrow border, before covering the soil in a generous layer of compost?  Maybe not Ritz standard but better than a Holiday Inn bed.  And then what do you see?  Blackbirds working along that same bed, busy beaks shovelling compost onto the path, hoicking out seedlings, scattering debris.  And removing earthworms.

I don’t want them to steal the worms!  How are all the nutrients in that carefully made compost going to be mixed into the soil without them?

But then… There’s birdsong, and the blackbird’s is one of the most beautiful. And I love to see butterflies, you can’t have butterflies without caterpillars.  And robins probably eat slug and snail eggs.  And anyway, what right do I have to take a utilitarian view of a bird’s existence?  I don’t like to picture myself in our conservatory, a Benthamite in her Panopticon, scrutinising the actions of garden inmates to ensure they are all working to my vision of the greater good. So I smile at the robin, turn over a couple of forkfuls of soil for him, then dig out a cabbage.  I throw all the looser leaves, plus a couple of outer tight-coiled layers, with their inmates, onto the compost heap.  And there’s still, untouched, nearly enough to make spicy cabbage and rice for two.  Especially if I add a handful of green beans, and it’s that time of year – every meal has to include green beans or courgettes. So here’s the recipe, for two people.  (It’s based on one I found at , if you prefer to see the original).  It’s a very tolerant recipe – lots of variation is possible!

1 baby cup* long grain rice

A small cabbage, core discarded, leaves shredded.

Possibly a handful of green beans, chopped into short lengths,

Sunflower or similar light vegetable oil

1 tblespn Cashews or peanuts, roasted.

3 curry leaves, finely chopped

1 medium clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 med red chilli pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped

1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed

½ teaspoon mustard powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

Juice of ½ a small lemon

Small bunch fresh coriander

Cook the rice in a covered non-stick saucepan with 2 ½ cups water until all the water is absorbed.  Pour a little oil into a non-stick frying pan, heat and add cumin, coriander, garlic, chilli and curry leaves. Cook on a medium heat until you can smell spices and garlic and chilli begin to colour.  Add mustard, turmeric, shredded cabbage and several grinds of black pepper, stir in and cover. Cook for about 5 mnutes until cabbage has wilted and begun to colour at edge.  Mix in cooked rice, beans if used (I microwaved mine for a minute first), nuts and lemon juice, recover and cook for further five minutes on low heat. Put into warm bowl and garnish with coriander leaves.

spicy cabbage and rice





Good as a side with a simple serving of meat or fish for a carnivorous husband, good as a main for his vegetarian wife. Enhanced by mango chutney.  Also goes well with egg, I think of it as a variant on bubble and squeak.




*Does everyone have a Peter Rabbit baby cup lurking in the back of the cupboard?  In case you don’t I checked – it’s 5 fl oz.


About lifelonglearner

Teacher in Southern England enthusiastic about exploring ways to learn and teach, and evangelistic about sharing them. Specialism is Physics, but that's just a useful starting point.
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