Ode to Cabbage — the unsung hero!

Your inspiration for the week: don’t overlook cabbage! I call cabbage the bocce ball of the cruciferous set. A bowling ball, a big, heavy dense, ball of leaves. In terms of nutritional benefits, cabbage rocks. It’s chock full of goodness! Fiber, potassium, choline, B12, iron, selenium, pantothenic acid (B5), manganase…. But. It’s like the stepchild of broccoli and kale. It’s the humblest of vegetables. Nobody even thinks about it.

But I have something to say about cabbage, and why it’s number ONE on my list: it’s crunchy. You can eat it raw or cooked. It’s durable. You can do a zillion things with it. It’s always there for you, in your crisper drawer. How many things can you say that about?

My love affair with cabbage began when my grandmother served cabbage leaves stuffed with all manner of things and topped with a lovely sauce. With such an elegant introduction, I never thought of it as boring!

In fact, in all five cookbooks I’ve written, starting with One Bite at a Time, cabbage has played a central role. If you’re thinking about cancer-fighting foods, longevity, gut health, anti-inflammatory foods, brain-healthy foods, it’s one of the BEST.  And from a culinary perspective, there’s SO much to say!

The humble cabbage:

  • Plays well with others.
  • Holds up. You can have a cabbage in your refrigerator for a long, long time. Even sliced up in an airtight container, it stays fresh for ages. It’s like a puppy dog! It will always greet you with a smile and never let you down.
  • Is readily available, everywhere.
  • Is one of THE most affordable foods, whether cooking for one or a family, or feeding a crowd at a soup kitchen, elegant buffet or picnic.
  • Is delightful in different seasons. Cabbage soups are comforting, warming and filling in autumn and winter; slaws are crispy, cool and refreshing in summer.
  • Can be heavy and substantial or, cut really thinly, VERY light.
  • Is delicious cooked a multiplicity of ways (see “Beyond Recipes” below).
  • Is a globetrotter! Grab that passport and try cabbage with caraway for an Eastern European flavor, or with cilantro and jalapeno pepper in a Mexican slaw, or add an Asian flair paired with toasted pecans and ginger. YUM!

Red cabbage adds crunch AND color. (It’s not really red—it’s a stunningly rich purple.) I add it to lighter greens that aren’t so sturdy. Throw it in stir fries and soups. Sautė it. Cut it into big chunks and roast it. Braise it.

If you’re a crispy, crunchy girl like me, you might just fall in love. :)

Tips to conquer cabbage

Don’t be put off by its size and heft! You can handle this vegetable!

  • Speak up! You can always ask the produce manager to cut a big head of cabbage in half.
  • Prep it the minute you get home! Chop and store it right away. Otherwise it’ll just sit there looking round and heavy and you’ll never use it.
  • Shred it by hand (see below) or in a food processor. It’ll keep in an airtight container in your fridge for a couple of weeks. Throw it in everything!
  • Don’t be shy! If you’re just cooking for one or two, raid the salad bar. Grab a small container and make your life a little easier.
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Beyond Recipes

There are SO many ways to cook cabbage! Some of my faves:

  • Red cabbage with caraway seeds, apple cider vinegar, olive oil and apples-- a marriage made in heaven. Sweet and sour.
  • With caramelized onion and a little red chili flakes? Incredible.
  • With balsamic vinegar.
  • Savoy cabbage with potatoes or parsnips, olive oil, and garlic.
  • Napa or Chinese cabbage (really light) with cilantro, cucumber, ginger and mint. With tamari and rice wine vinegar. Also great in stir-fries.
  • Dutch (light green) cabbage (the everyday bocci ball cabbage). Mainly used in coleslaw. I like to combine Dutch and Red in coleslaw. The color is seductive. Also works really well with garlic & ginger; or cooked with Dijon mustard. Delicious with red wine or sherry vinegar. Also works well with apples, apple cider vinegar. And bacon!

Let’s cook!

Try some of my SUPER DELICIOUS red cabbage soup and salad recipes. Not so humble, I’m sure you’ll agree. :)

Julie’s Hungarian Sweet-and-Sour Cabbage Soup.jpg

Here’s a big shout-out to my soup sister, Julie Burford, for creating an insanely good brew. Cabbage soups have been a staple of Eastern European cooking since way back when. Here, Julie has really amped up the taste by creating a sweet-and-sour profile with coconut palm sugar (or maple syrup) playing off apple cider vinegar. Wow!

Making this soup with my beloved neighbor and Soup Sister, Julie Burford.

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Cabbage doesn’t hang back in this recipe, it stars! The sturdy mixture of red and Napa cabbages, plus the tart crunch of green bell pepper coupled with the umami flavor of the sesame miso and the bright pop of fresh mint leaves equals one special salad. Make your day and take it along with you for lunch or have it all ready in your fridge at the end of the day.

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Nothing could be more elegant nor intriguing on a buffet line or special dinner. People will swoon. Seriously! It’s the crunch, the color. The pairing of jicama and red cabbage, with the unexpected Asian dressing. A culinary treasure.

CABBAGE IS AN OLD-FASHIONED FOOD. IT DOESN’T HAVE THE STAR POWER OF KALE. IT DOESN’T GET THE ATTENTION. BUT IT’S DELICIOUS, AFFORDABLE, VERSATILE, CRUNCHY, CHOCK-FULL OF NUTRIENTS  AND RELIABLE. AND WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR?