Cabbage Panic and Not-My-Mother’s Tuna Patties

Tuna patties-nicely golden brown!

It happens every time we receive a CSA box- I panic a little. It’s irrational really, but I can’t seem to help it. At first, it was the greens, I would panic about what I was going to do with all my greens. We weren’t big salad eaters and my family didn’t regard a plate full of salad as dinner. I eventually figured out that I didn’t have to eat platters full of raw salad in order to get greens into my family’s diet. I found ways to incorporate them into other dishes like soups, omelets, even mashed potatoes and voila, everyone was eating greens and happy.
Lately, my panic has been more of the cabbage variety. I don’t know why. I like cabbage. We ate it on a pretty regular basis when I was growing up, but it was usually boiled in a pot of caldo de res, or shredded on top of fish tacos, or, on the rare occasion that we ate out, it came transformed into coleslaw in a foam cup with KFC stamped on the side. That was really the extent of my experience with cabbage. I’ve been warming up to it, but sometimes inspiration completely fails me when I stare at this innocuous vegetable. It’s really a blank canvas that adapts and plays well with many different flavors and modes of preparation, but I’ve had to work hard around my cabbage bias to see it that way. This time around, I worked half of a pretty large Napa Cabbage into tuna patties and the other half into a casserole, but I’m going to share the tuna patties with you because they turned out great.

You see, I ate plenty of tuna patties growing up. It’s one of the foods I associate with home cooking. My mother would make a batch with several cans of tuna, mix them with egg, onion, celery, salt and pepper and then fry them. She would then slather them with red chile sauce and serve them with nopales. They were really good, but they absorbed huge amounts of oil and we seemed to gobble them up, well, like cookies. No matter how big a batch my mom made for our family of seven, there were never leftovers. When I moved out on my own I tried to lighten up her recipe several times. I coated them in bread crumbs and baked them, or tried to “light” fry them, but they never worked well with the red sauce application. So, here I resolved to move away from my mother’s tuna patties and allow them to evolve into something more veggie-ful. I added thinly shredded fennel, a handful of chopped dill, steamed cabbage, steamed and chopped heirloom carrots, and of course, green garlic.They have still retained the heartiness that came with my mother’s original recipe but without the greasy edge. I browned mine in a heavy pan spritzed with olive oil. You could bake them, but they might not hold together as well. I served them up with a side of green garlic and kale mashed potatoes and a dill sauce. It was a mouthful of spring. I hope you try them.

I chose to steam the cabbage first, because the volume of the cabbage would have made it hard to work enough of it into each single patty. I also steamed the carrots, but you could opt to shred them instead. Shredding would have been more practical. Alternately, you could sautee the cabbage and carrot together. I used a small mandoline to shred the fennel.

Not-My-Mother’s Tuna Patties (makes about a dozen patties)

Not-My-Mother's Tuna Patties and Green Garlic and Kale Mashed Potatoes.

2 (5 oz) cans tuna packed in water, drained
half a head of cabbage, cored and sliced thin (I used Napa)
half of a fennel bulb shredded, or sliced thinly
2  small carrots, steamed and diced small, or shredded
half of a green garlic stalk, or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup of chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup of breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp of hot red pepper flakes (optional)
olive oil for browning

Place a pot of water to boil over high heat with a fine mesh colander set over it, making sure the bottom of the colander doesn’t touch the water. Shred the cabbage and drop it into the colander once the water is boiling. Cover and steam for 3-5 minutes until cabbage is tender-crisp. Set aside to drain in the colander. Once cool enough to handle dump the steamed cabbage into a tea towel and wring most of the water out. If you are steaming and chopping the carrots, do so now.

steamed cabbage after wringing water out

steaming the heirloom carrots

Set a large skillet to heat on stove over med high heat. Spray/drizzle with olive oil. Combine steamed cabbage, fennel, dill, carrot, garlic, tuna, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add eggs, and mix well. Add bread crumbs, combine. Pan should be ready for browning patties by now.

Tuna patty mixture ready to be scooped into the pan.

Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measure, scoop mixture into pan and then slightly flatten with spatula. Brown about 3-5 minutes per side until golden brown. Flip carefully, the patties are a bit delicate because of the high veggie content. You may need to use the two spatula method–use one spatula to hold down the patty while you ease the second spatula under it. That’s it! Serve with dill sauce and lemon wedges.

Dill Sauce

1/4 cup mayo

1/4 greek yogurt or light sour cream

juice from half a lemon

handful of chopped fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything up in a bowl! You can double the recipe if you need more sauce. This is delicious on fish or chicken, or almost any veggie.