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   Not Quite Spring,
   but Hardly Winter

   by Nigella Lawson

  This is a difficult time of year for cooking. Officially, spring began last week, and yet there can still be a nip in the night air. It's hard to throw off the wintry need for warmth and comfort in the kitchen.

  When I invite people for dinner now, I don't want to lay on the hearty supper I would have automatically provided a month or so ago. And yet too leafy and light a concoction doesn't feel right, either.

  Luckily, there is an in-between. This dinner of flash-fried salmon fillets with darkly glimmering but lightly spiced red cabbage came about more or less by accident, which is always the best way. I was in the mood for red cabbage, but not the heavy sweet-and-sour version my mother used to cook "in the Viennese fashion," as it was known, jammy with sugar, splashed with vinegar and thickened with flour and sour cream (gorgeous though it was).

  I had a head of red cabbage and an opened bottle of red wine, and decided to cook the former in the latter, adding the juice of an orange, along with the traditional apple and onion, for sprightliness.

  The resulting dish is perfect: the vegetable retains its comforting, substantial heft without leaving you feeling immobilized after eating it.

  Of course, the traditional pairing for red cabbage is pork or goose, but both felt too out of step with the season about to arrive. Salmon is a most unexpected pairing, but it works. Quite apart from how beautiful the bronze-coral slabs of fish look alongside the stewed ruby tangle of the cabbage, the robust meatiness and dense healthy oiliness of the fish sit well with the deep-toned, heavy-textured fruitiness of the cabbage.

  An appetizer before this dish is not really necessary, and not just because the dinner is substantial enough as it stands. Dinner at home is best when it is its own thing, not a pared-down reflection of what you might expect at a restaurant.

  I like being able to plunk great bowlfuls of food straight down on the table. Sometimes too much table setting and plate clearing works against the laid-back atmosphere of just sitting around eating with friends.

  The lengthy time the cabbage needs — at least two hours, though longer never hurts — means, I know, that you really have to buckle down in the kitchen the minute you get home from work or market. But if the idea of shredding cabbage and starting to cook before you've even taken off your coat doesn't appeal, then just do it my way and get the cabbage cooked the day before.

  This isn't even a compromise: letting the red cabbage sit in its aromatic cooking juices makes it only more flavorful. And then, when your friends are actually sitting around, hungry for their supper, you have the lightest of tasks to fulfill.

  If you wanted to make life really easy on yourself, you could simply turn a few salmon fillets in a hot unoiled pan or griddle while you reheat the cabbage in its pot, but with little extra effort you can actually feel you're creating something special.

  Just fry a few rashers of wafer-thin streaky bacon, wrap them in foil while you fry the salmon in the salty fat the bacon leaves in the pan and then, to serve the dish, dice up some acid-fresh pickled cucumber and strew it like jade-colored confetti on the hot salmon, crumbling the crisp, crunchy bacon as you do so.

  As for dessert, only you know how much of a party you want dinner to be. But filled with a retro urge and a desire to look as if I had pulled out more stops than I actually had, I ended my tentatively spring dinner with a flame-licking pan of crępes suzette. This is just one of those desserts that seem, on the page as on the plate, to be labor-intensive and tricky, but in fact are as simple to make as they are gratifying to eat.

  For one thing, you can make the crepes in advance; they could sit, piled between torn-off sheets of baking parchment and well wrapped in the refrigerator, for a good three days without coming to any harm. But I must admit to taking, more than once, an even quicker route: using good store-bought crepes. Once they're immersed in the sweet orangey syrup that can be cooking while you eat the salmon, they will not betray their prefabricated origins.

  So. You've eaten your fish, you've eaten your cabbage.

  Don't be alarmed — just stroll casually to the stove, fold the crepes into quarters, put them into a skillet or a heatproof dish and warm everything up while the orange liqueur of your choice is heating in the same pan the syrup was cooked in. Add the hot liqueur, and in insouciant fashion strike a match and ignite the hot liquid in the skillet. You are not playing with fire: this is a spectacular dessert that, contrary to appearances, requires minimal input from you. Just allow yourself, please, to bask in the warm glow of your own unstrenuous efforts.

  • Recipe: Salmon With Bacon and Gherkin Dice
  • Recipe: Red Cabbage
  • Recipe: Crepes
  • Recipe: Crępes Suzette

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