Self-taught chef Mette Mølbak traces her passion for food back to her mother, who did things properly. Homemade sourdough dark rye bread and slow osso buco are among the classics she learned at home. Mølbak still holds that a good meal is made from scratch, but her everyday cooking recipes are less time-consuming—and thus less daunting to try out. The basic vegetable takes center stage—exalted as if it were a rare truffle.
• Editor of the food and lifestyle section “Spis&Bo” in the Danish national daily newspaper, Politiken
• Food editor for the Danish magazine ALT for damerne, 2010-2015
• Contributing columnist for various magazines and newspapers
• Selected books: “Mad til 2 dage” [“Food for 2 Days”] (2013), “Kål” [“Cabbage”] (Muusmann, 2015), and “Kålsalater & juice” [Cabbage Salads & Juice”] (2016)
• Graduated in 2006 with a degree in journalism from the Danish School of Journalism, in addition to studies at San Francisco State University
• When the bartender asks, she’ll order a Campari
• Mother of two—Anna and Carl.
A Love of Cabbage
When Mette Mølbak was growing up, harvesting kale was far from her favorite thing to do. Every November, she spent a freezing weekend in the family’s garden, situated in the provincial Danish town of Brøndum. Together with her brother and her parents, she picked and gathered kale for hours among the long rows of tall stocks—a forest of miniature trees. And then, the transformation: The leaves were rinsed to remove soil remnants and boiled into a deep green soup.
“It took an unbelievable amount of kale to make it. We froze some of it and then had it at Christmas in a milk-based sauce,” reminisces Mølbak.
She loved this Danish classic, known as grønlangkål, but since then she’s become a fan of the vegetable in less concealed—and lighter—versions.
“When I was a poor student, I loved cabbage because it was a cheap ingredient that goes a long way. Now I’ve stuck with it because it’s fresh and crisp, and provides good energy. You get full, but without feeling weighed down.”
In her recipes, Mølbak strives to show that cabbage can be cooked in modern ways. For lunch, she likes to make a cabbage salad with proteins in the form of beans and leftover chicken or fish from the fridge. As a dinner side, she goes for briefly blanched Brussels sprouts. Many people recall cabbage as a dreadful thing from their childhood, with Brussels sprouts particularly notorious for an unpleasant aroma. Mølbak points out that this reputation is undeserved and a result of cooking times run rampant.
“Yes, overcooked Brussels sprouts taste terrible, and you shouldn’t treat them like that,” she says.
In addition to scaling back cooking times, her best advice to cabbage novices is to go out and get themselves a mandoline. Finely sliced cabbage is even easier to chew. Beginners can also choose to start with a more accommodating variety, such as pointed cabbage.
“It’s very similar to lettuce and the neutral taste makes it a great match for everything from oil and vinegar dressing to seafood. For example, I’ve grilled pointed cabbage with scallops—and it was delicious. Then you can move on to kale and Brussels sprouts, which are sharper and more bitter, but also pack more health for the money.”
One of her own recent discoveries is the renowned Korean specialty kimchi, a fermented, orange-red sauerkraut with lactic acid bacteria that work wonders for digestion. Mølbak also admits that she has been tempted to cheat on cabbage and pledge her devotion to another vegetable: onions.
“They’re really peasant food rather than a fancy ingredient, but onions feature a wealth of varieties and so many options when you give them a closer look.”