The humble and much-maligned cabbage has a lot to live down. William Connor summed up its horrors in 1950, decade of the overcooked vegetable: "Boiled cabbage à l’Anglaise is something compared with which steamed coarse newsprint bought from bankrupt Finnish salvage dealers and heated over smoky oil stoves is an exquisite delicacy."
Poor Mr. Connor! He was obviously not buying fresh cabbage from his local farmer. If he had been, he would have been singing a different tune; noting how sweet, crisp, and clean-tasting cabbage is, and how irresistible in a simple salad, slaw, or stir-fry.
A Vegetable of the Gods
Unlike Mr. Connor, the ancient Greeks adored cabbage, and invoked Zeus, kinerg of the gods, to describe its origin. One story goes that Zeus was struggling to explain two oracles that contradicted each other, began to sweat from the effort, and from a drop of his divine perspiration, a cabbage miraculously sprang up.
Since that first cabbage, hundreds of other varieties have sprung up. At farmers markets you’ll see cabbages in many shades of red and green, and in many shapes and sizes, from pointy-headed mini-cabbages, to flattened orbs, to crinkly-leaved Savoy, Chinese, and Napa cabbages.
Nutritionally speaking, cabbage is indeed a divine vegetable – low in calories, and high in fiber, minerals (calcium, manganese, and potassium), and vitamins. In fact a serving of cabbage has as much vitamin C as an orange, but far fewer calories. Cabbage is also high in Vitamins A, E, K, and B6, and in the cancer-fighting antioxidants beta carotene and sulforaphane. Like all vegetables, cabbage begins to lose its valuable nutrients as soon as it is harvested, so it’s best from your own backyard garden, or from your local farmer.
4 cups thinly sliced cabbage (green, red, savoy, and/or Napa)
1 cup loosely packed herb, such as parsley, cilantro, or dill
Other thinly sliced vegetables, fruits, or nuts of your choice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Thinly slice the cabbage, and any other vegetable such as carrots or peppers that you have on hand. Chop the herbs. Toss all together in a large bowl.
2. For the dressing, combine the oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Whisk in a bowl, or put in a screw-top jar and shake well.
3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate. Toss again before serving.
There are as many variations of coleslaw as there are cooks, so feel free to adapt this recipe according to your tastes, and what’s in your refrigerator. Start with sliced or grated cabbage, then add a spicy salad green such as arugula or mizuna, an herb (dill, parsley, cilantro, or mint), and some chopped vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers – sweet or hot). If you want to go all out, add some fruit (apples, oranges, mango, grapes), toasted nuts (peanuts, cashews), and meat (grilled chicken or shrimp)—and you’ll have a healthy, delicious meal-in-a-bowl.