Cabbage is a vegetable for hard times.
Think of bubble and squeak, the quick Welsh dish of fried cabbage and potato; Cabbage Patch Kids with their patched up clothes; or famous famines and their winters of boiled cabbages.
But there’s no need to be ashamed: ancient Greeks and Romans ate cabbage. Why shouldn’t we?
Cabbage is a glamorously international vegetable, grown prodigiously in China, India, Russia, and Indonesia (as well as Poland and the Ukraine, as you would expect).
For frugal types — or those new to frugal living — cabbage is a gold mine: good for you and cheap. Red cabbage is 69 cents a pound (99 for organic) versus radicchio (its cousin in looks) at $3.99 a pound, and vitamin-packed kale at a minimum of $2.99 a pound.
Cabbage has a lot of vitamin C and glutamine, making it a great anti-inflammatory. It also has some folate and a little bit of protein.
I decided to spend some weeks cooking with cabbage and see how I liked it. I ate the green raw, cooked the red, sampled it pickled and in soup. The following recipes are the result of my experiments. One word of caution: raw cabbage can be verychallenging on the digestion. Not recommended for sensitive guts.
One last word about the humble cabbage: while a slow-witted person might be a cabbagehead, a special someone could be a petit chou.
Green Cabbage Salad with Blue Cheese and Olives (serves 4)
Crunchy and lively with the salty blue cheese and the piquant lime, this is an easy-to-make salad, appetizer, or dinner accompaniment. Serve with trout and white wine for a larger meal. Vegan variation: omit the cheese add salt and pecans (apple optional).
4 cups raw green cabbage (about 1/2 a med head)
8 Tblsp black olives, sliced
4 oz blue cheese, cubed
French Dressing. Put all ingredients in a glass bottle and shake well.
4 oz fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
2 oz olive oil
salt & pepper
How to assemble:
Slice cabbage into fine ribbons and place in a colander in the sink. Pour a kettle of boiling water over it to make it easier to digest. (Alternately, you could sautee the cabbage for 4 minutes to break it down further.) In 4 soup plates, place 1 cup of the cabbage, top with cheese, olives, and dress. Toss with pepper. Voila!
Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage (serves 6 – 8)
Hearty, tangy, pungent, a good accompaniment for eggs, fish, or meat, this is a classic braised cabbage. It is simple, but has a long cooking time. Adapted from an English cookbook I found in California years ago, The Home Book of Vegetarian Cookery by N.B. and R.B. Highton, 1964.
1 red cabbage (about 1 lb)
1 oz butter
1 small chopped white onion
1 Tblsp brown sugar
1 cooking apple
2 Tblsp apple vinegar
1 grated raw potato
1/4 – 1/2 pint stock
1/2 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground clove (or to taste)
How to assemble
Shred cabbage finely and wash. In a large saucepan, heat the butter. Add the onion and brown sugar and until brown. Add the cabbage, apple, potato, salt and spices. Stir well. Add the stock. Simmer until tender, about 2 hours. Check periodically and add more liquid if necessary to prevent burning. Taste–it should be sweet and sour. Adjust the seasonings (try adding a little more vinegar to make it sweeter). Serve hot.
Kim Chee or Kimchi (lasts almost a lifetime, feeds everyone)
Delicious, potent, great for digestive health, kim chee is Korea’s national treasure. Said to cure lab animals infected with avian flu virus, this stuff will keep your mouth and belly breathing fire. Perfect for surviving any recession! Enjoy at work but expect to clear the room. To the uninitiated, it can smell as putrid as garbage rotting in the summer sun. To the initiated it is heaven in a pickled form. Yum! Recipe adapated from Fabulous Foods.com.
3 Tblsp plus 1 tsp pickling salt 6 cups water
2 pounds Napa cabbage, cut into 2-inch squares
6 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths, then slivered
1 1/2 Tblsp minced fresh ginger
2 Tblsp Korean ground dried hot pepper (or other mildly hot ground red pepper)
1 tsp sugar
How to assemble
1. Create a brine by dissolving 3 tablespoons salt in water. Put the cabbage into a large bowl (not plastic or other reactive material) and pour the brine over it. Weight the cabbage down with a plate. Let stand 12 hours.
2. Drain the cabbage and reserve the brine. Mix the cabbage with the remaining ingredients, including the 1 tsp salt. Pack the mixture into a 2-quart jar. Pour enough of the reserved brine over the cabbage to cover it. Push a freezer bag into the mouth of the jar, and pour the remaining brine into the bag. Seal the jar. Let the kimchi ferment in a cool place, at a temperature no higher than 68° F, for 3 to 6 days, until the kimchi is as sour as you like.
3. Remove the brine bag, and cap the jar tightly. Store the kimchi in the refrigerator, where it will keep for months.