Did you know…
Cabbage is so versatile and commonplace that it is eaten in almost every country around the world. That is a LOT of cabbage. Fermented cabbage dishes are a widespread form of food preparation and have nourished humanity for centuries. And, while pickled and fermented cabbage is common, the simplest way to prepare cabbage is to steam it. Although we think of cabbages as being relatively head-sized and weighing a couple of pounds, the heaviest cabbage on record weighed 62.71 kilograms (138.25 pounds). That’s right, imagine a cabbage that weighs 138.25 pounds. Wow.
There are 5 varieties of cabbage within the Brassica oleracea species:
- Spring Blue
- White/Dutch (I’ve always called it green cabbage, but apparently it’s white)
Not included on the list is Chinese cabbage (also called napa or celery cabbage). This is because Chinese cabbage is in the species Brassica rapa and is more closely related to turnips, bok choy, and broccoli raab.
Cabbage is approximately 90% water but is a great source of many nutrients. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K, and a good source of folate and vitamin B6. Different varieties of cabbage have varying nutritional strengths. Purple/Red cabbage has more vitamin C, while Savoy cabbage has more vitamin A, calcium, iron, and potassium. Generally, cabbage is considered a beneficial digestive aid and intestinal cleanser, however, if eaten in excessive amounts it can lead to bloating and intestinal gas.
Buying & Storing
When shopping for cabbage, check to make sure there isn’t major damage or any significant blemishes or brown/soft patches on the head. Also, check for cabbages that are heavy for their size and feel solid. Obviously, the solid part isn’t as relevant when picking Chinese cabbage, but the other suggestions still hold true. Some people say to look for ones without curled outer leaves, but depending on where you buy your cabbage, sometimes that just means they haven’t stripped of as many of the outer leaves before selling them.
If you’re buying from a farmers market and you don’t care what your cabbage looks like, oftentimes farmers will have cabbage “seconds” that don’t look as pretty due to bug damage but taste just as good. They may even offer them to you at a discount. If buying damaged or insect nibbled cabbage, keep in mind that it will not last as long, and should probably be broken down fairly soon after purchase. You may also want to look for bugs as you’re breaking them down, though they’re fairly easy to spot.
Cabbage can be stored for quite a long time if done properly. Refrigerate cabbage in your hydrator/crisper drawer. Do not remove outer leaves before storage. A plastic bag will help retain moisture but is not necessary if you have a crisper drawer and you leave the outer leaves on. If the outer leaves have already been removed then you may want to place it in a plastic bag to increase the storage life. Properly stored cabbage can last 3 weeks to 2 months in the refrigerator. It can last much longer in optimal root cellar conditions. If you only use part of your cabbage, wrap the remaining portion up and store it in your refrigerator for up to a week.
Pull off the outer leaves and rinse the head of cabbage under cool water. Cut the cabbage in half from top to bottom and then in half again (to get quarters). At this point, you can cut out any damaged areas if you feel the need to. Then, take your knife and de-core the cabbage, thereby removing the stiff base and center stem of the cabbage that looks different from the compact layers of the head. Once de-cored the cabbage quarters can be sliced into thin ribbons, inch-wide strips, chunks, cut into thinner wedges, or left as is. It all depends on what you’re doing with your cabbage. Sometimes you may need whole leaves of the cabbage so you would leave the cabbage intact and begin peeling off the outer leaves after rinsing the whole head. This is how you prepare cabbage is your using cabbage leaves as cups, wraps, or the like.
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When it comes to how to cook cabbage, there are a plethora of options from all around the world. In fact, Wikipedia has an entire page all on cabbage dishes (see link below). So have fun with your cabbage. The differences between cabbage varieties and species of cabbage are quite vast, so it lends itself to all kinds of uses and experiments. Now, since we are in America, the land of coleslaw, it is only fitting that we start with preparing cabbage raw and go from there.
Raw: cut cabbage heads into halves or quarters, de-core, and thinly slice cabbage for use in slaws, salads, pasta salads, or on top of tacos for a delicious crunch. All varieties of cabbage go great with green onion, carrots, daikon, jicama, and beets (all raw). You can even mix several varieties of cabbage all together for a really delicious salad or slaw. You can also peel the leaves off and use them as cups for rice dishes, taco shells, etc.
Grilling: cut wedges of cabbage, but DO NOT de-core. If you come across a cabbage recipe that tells you to de-core before grilling then they must be some sort of insane wizard because I have yet to figure out how to keep cabbage wedges together when grilling without leaving the core intact or trying the wedges up with string. Maybe I’m just bad at grilling (I’d like to think I’m not that bad) but who knows. Drizzle the wedges with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and grill until tender over a cooler section of the grill until browned and tender. Just watch them and be careful when turning them.
Roasting: cut wedges of cabbage, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 400 until browned and tender. You can also cut cabbage into large chunks and roast the chunks, stirring them after about 5 minutes. Cabbage does not take too long to roast, so just keep your eye on it. As mentioned before, roasted cabbage is great on roasted vegetable platters.
Sautéing: cut strips of cabbage and toss them in a sauté pan with other veggies to use in a stir-fry or fried rice.
Boiling: cut cabbage into quarters then cut into large chunks. Boil in salted water with a chopped onion for 5 minutes, strain, and add to mashed potatoes, mashed parsnips, or soup.
Fermenting and Pickling: ferment cabbage in a vinegar or salt brine to make homemade sauerkraut or kimchi. There are lots of ways to ferment cabbage so get some heads and try them all!
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