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Lowly cabbage goes glamorous: Cooking from box, garden, market

Spring is late this year, but everyone still has heavy, wide-eyed piles of one of the original, most thoroughly lowly, peasant foods: the cabbage. I can't believe it took me so long to discover the cabbage. I always treated the bulbous lady so badly, pushing her red fronds aside in college salad bars; eschewing the smarmy cups of coleslaw for her mushy cousin, potatoes and gravy; recoiling in horror from sauerkraut. I hate cabbage, I thought.

Cabbage_in_jars
Oh me. You were so, so wrong. Or perhaps you were right; that cabbage wasn't loved, not the way my cabbage is now. The first farmer's market of the season I spent the better part of $10 on cabbage, and it's a good bet it will be all eaten within two weeks, and I haven't even made kim chi.

The first, best, most wonderful way to enjoy cabbage is a recipe I adapted from The Paley's Place Cookbook. Trust Vitaly Paley, with his Russian heritage and his local, seasonal mien, to deliver cabbage in its sweetest, truest form. I like savoy cabbage or red cabbage for this; the big heavy pale green heads don't turn as jammy, although sometimes I mix some green in with the red for a play of textures. Here is the recipe for honey-braised cabbage; it also calls for a little bacon fat (or olive oil), an onion and an apple, some vinegar and honey. I serve it with everything; with corned beef or sausages, spooned into lentil or potato soup, heaped into a bowl of pasta, mixed with leftover potatoes and grated beets and lots of fresh garlic for a surprisingly perky fried potato cake. It kind of disappears into soups, even as it adds sweetness, so it's great for kids (yes! mine have now eaten cabbage, and liked it!).

There are so many other ways to cook cabbage. The most important thing I have to tell you is this: cabbage is wonderful in soup. I know, if you're like me, you're already recoiling with fears of stew. But here: my favorite soup method.

Peel (as required) and chop into smallish pieces (1/2 inch or so) one of each of the following in any quantity: onion family, root family (except potatoes), cabbage or sturdy greens. Heat a few tablespoons of fat (butter, oil, reserved bacon or other meat fat); add a teaspoon of each cumin and smoked paprika (Limbo has it), and some salt; stir in your chopped veggies; cook until soft and fragrant; add either peeled and cubed potatoes or cooked beans (any kind, seriously, but if they're lentils or split peas you don't need to cook them first) and water or broth, bring to simmer, cook until everything's soft, mash or puree part of it if you like things that way. I often add chopped garlic, cream, butter or shredded cheese right at the end.

We make a veggie chili based on that method each week, usually with yellow onions and carrots and cabbage, and Everett claims he'd eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. He hasn't eaten it for breakfast yet, but I'm hopeful.

Here are some more cabbage recipes I've either tried or think sound likely:

How do you like your cabbage? Does anyone have an amazing borscht recipe with cabbage as an ingredient? I'm planning a future post on beets...

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We are a big coleslaw family as you can make it "Mexican" with yogurt, cumin, lime, jalapenos and serve with tacos or enchiladas or "Asian" by adding a sesame type dressing and serve with fish or shrimp and "Italian" by adding Italian-style salad dressing and serve on top of meatball sandwiches.

What a great idea, Courtney! I think we'll try the Mexican one tonight!

I also love a mayo-less coleslaw with just lime juice, chili, a bit of sugar, shredded cabbage and fresh mint.

I picked this hot cabbage dish up just after college from a long-lost source. It's especially great for the holidays.

Spiced Sautéed Red Cabbage with Cranberries

1 lb red cabbage finely sliced
½ Tbs peanut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
⅓ tsp cloves
¾ tsp cinnamon
⅓ whole nutmeg, freshly grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c fresh cranberries
½ heaping Tbs brown sugar
1½ Tbs red wine vinegar

Heat oil in a very large frying pan or wok over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat up to its highest setting and add the cabbage. Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly so that the cabbage comes into contact with the hot pan on all sides. As soon as the cabbage is slightly seared and coated in onions and oil, stir in the spices, salt & pepper, and cranberries.

Turn the heat down and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring once or twice until the cabbage is just tender. When it’s ready, turn the heat up again, sprinkle in the brown sugar and vinegar, give it all a few more good stirs and then serve.

I've always thought of cabbage (and other leafys actually) as a food best eaten right after cooking. Do these cabbage dishes, the cooked ones, really hold up? I love the idea of cooking them and having them to put into things during the week, but do they taste as good?

mom22, I don't think of cabbage or leafy greens that way at all! I think, in fact, cabbage is one of the absolute best things to cook up (or, even better, ferment) and keep in the fridge for spooning into other foods throughout the week. it's extremely sturdy and it's kind of a flavor sponge, but with lots of sweetness; it's like adding ketchup to everything, but way healthier ;). also, many nutrients like betacarotenes are easier to absorb when the veggies are cooked, so if you cook ahead you'll not have to do that prepwork every day. I've been doing a lot of leftover combinations (this soup or that meat with that vegetable dish) and a nice vinegary braised cabbage goes well with so many things.

cabbage has more vitamin c than oranges, iodine (so you can skip it in your salt and pick sea salt instead), and it's considered a detoxification food; great to counteract all the toxins in our environment!

oh, according to 'nourishing traditions,' raw cabbage shouldn't be consumed every day, because of "goitrogens, substances that block the formation of thyroid hormone. This in turn makes it difficult for the liver to convert the plant form of Vitamin A into the animal form." these are neutralized by cooking until tender.

Thanks. I'll give it a try. I'm game for anything, once!

Sarah, I just made a lovely borscht with red beets and cabbage. My recipe came from Weight Watchers New Complete cookbook. I can scan a copy for you if you like. Have you tried growing cabbage? I am going to grow some this year, but my Seattle Tilth book has made me rightly nervous about pests. Any tips or tricks?

My favorite way to have cabbage is to simply saute it in a little bit of olive oil until crisp tender and then season with salt and pepper (sometimes I'll sprinkle a little bit of vinegar on it.) It's a great side dish for chicken, fish, etc. My family loves it!

Katy, thanks for the offer! no rush, but if you happen to be by a scanner with a few spare minutes, awesome :).

as for growing cabbage: no, this will be my first year. I, too, am a bit worried, but I figure I'll only lose $3 in seeds and a bit of time with the experimentation :) my strategy is to just make sure my soil is super rich and I'll follow all Steve's instructions carefully; hopefully it'll turn out! when I get ready to put them in, I'll let you know.

Sarah- you inspired me. I have never bought cabbage but I love greens (spinache, chard) and am going to try it this week w/ Grilled Chicken Sausgae and Garlic Mashed Potatos. I usually have to cook ahead since dinners are RUSHED at my house so I appreciate things you can make ahead of time. Sounds yummy. I didnt get red cabbage- hopefully green cabbage works just as well?

we LOVE cabbage over here. aside from fermenting it, we just shred it, salt it a bit and let it sweat for 10-15 minutes and eat it, sometimes with apples or feta or seasames, with really anything! my husband and I took our honeymoon to Romania and had cabbage for every single meal, both cooked and raw. Still not sick of it! We have been growing it for two years now, both summer and overwintering varieties, all recommended by Steve. No problems so far, although my husband has been known to go slug-hunting at night with a flashlight and his slug-removal for good tool, much to the amusement of our neighbors.

I've already tried both the hot sauce recipe and the cream recipe.... Very good. And easy. Thanks for the tip!

I want to grow cabbage as well. Who's Steve?

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