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Spring cabbage with cumin

Apicius III.IX.1 & 3


Spring cabbage with cumin. Remarkably, this recipe for simply-cooked cabbage has no fish sauce but requires salt instead. At 3.9.3 the same recipe (with a few added garnishes) is repeated but this time with fish sauce. From these two variations, we can see how effective the use of fish sauce can be but also see that some Romans clearly didn’t use it as much as we imagine. This is an exceptionally good and simple dish that refutes the accusation that the Romans abused their food with spices.

Original recipe:



  • 1lb. spring cabbage
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. roasted and ground cumin seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. sweet wine
  • salt to taste or 1–2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 small leek, thinly sliced and briefly steamed or boiled
  • a handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper


  • Prepare the cabbage by cutting off the thicker stalks and trimming any discoloured leaves.
  • Coarsely shred it and wash in cold water.
  • Put the olive oil in a large, deep lidded pan and heat.
  • Lift the cabbage from the water into a colander and shake off the majority of the water.
  • Place in the hot pan. Cover it and leave for a few minutes to heat and then stir briskly.
  • Cover again and steam the leaves briefly until just cooked. Keep some crispness to the leaves and remove the lid so that any remaining water can evaporate.
  • Add the ground cumin and a splash or two of the wine.
  • Heat through over a hot flame or ring and divide into two portions if required.
  • Flavour one with a little fish sauce, the other with salt. Serve with the hot steamed leek and chopped coriander sprinkled over the top. Finish with freshly ground pepper.
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