Cabbage is the only leafy green you can count on this time of year. Harvested all summer long until the first frost, our local cabbage stores nicely until spring, long after most greenery has disappeared from our markets.
It’s one of the most versatile vegetables – and it’s also one of the oldest. Culinary historians trace the original cabbage to China and records show it has been grown in Europe since Celtic times.
This vigorous cold-weather vegetable thrives in our region and this year’s harvest was bountiful. Cabbage is full of nutrients (vitamins K and C), high in fiber, very low in calories, slightly sweet and crunchy.
But those giant heads can be daunting. The average kale weighs about 2 to 3 pounds and is about the size of a bowling ball—enough to make 10 or more cups of shredded kale, or about 6 to 7 cups of cooked kale. An unwashed, firm, compact cabbage, wrapped in damp kitchen paper, will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 months. They can also be quartered and then stored in the crisper in a perforated plastic bag for about 2 weeks. When ready to use, simply peel off any outer leaves that are dried or wilted and limp and discard.
Cabbage is a patient vegetable that can do almost anything you ask of it. Roast it in a hot oven, sauté it in a pan on the stove, throw it on the grill, steam it in bamboo, cook it in a soup, ferment it into kimchi or sauerkraut, shred it and toss it with a bold vinaigrette. Its mild flavor pairs well with fiery spices, creamy sauces, aged cheeses, vinegar, mustard, horseradish, soy and citrus. In short, cabbage is much more than coleslaw.
The only trick to cooking cabbage is NOT to overcook it. Then it becomes mushy and develops a strong smell and taste. Similar in texture and taste, cabbage varieties are relatively interchangeable, but with subtle differences.
Red cabbage is coarser than its cousins and tends to turn blue on cooking unless treated with acid first. If you’re sautéing or roasting red cabbage, toss it with vinegar or citrus before heating it.
Savoy, with its pretty ruffled leaves, is more tender and slightly sweeter than the common round Dutch kale.
Chinese cabbage is an Asian variety with bright, ruffled leaves. It’s not as dense as the others and very tender – it’s great in stir-fries.
ox heart or pointed cabbage is an heirloom, conical shaped and harvested early in the season. These have usually disappeared from our markets by the holidays.
bok choy, or Chinese cabbage, with its bright green leaves and crisp stems, is a staple in Asian dishes, perfect in stir-fries.
the brussel sprouts look like baby cabbage but aren’t. They belong to the cabbage family and are a bright green addition to any cabbage combination.
This time of year, cabbage plays a starring role in St. Patrick’s Day dishes, especially when paired with corned beef and potatoes. But the noble vegetable can do much more.
Caramelized cabbage with pasta and spicy cheese
Note: The common (Dutch) kale becomes silky and sweet if sautéed over low heat until its edges turn golden. Toss lots of garlic and fennel in the crock pot, light it up with lemon, then toss it with pasta and some grated aged cheese for a quick weeknight dinner. By Beth Dooley.
• 3 TBSP. unsalted butter
• 2 TEA SPOONS. fennel seeds
• 1 small bulb of fennel, thinly sliced, reserving the fronds and chopped
• 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 to 1 1/4 pounds kale (small head), thinly sliced
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 pound angel hair noodles
• 3 to 4 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste
• 2 to 3 tbsp. grated Parmesan or aged Gouda cheese
In a deep saucepan or Dutch oven over low heat, melt the butter and add the fennel seeds and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds. Then add the fennel, garlic and cabbage. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, stir and cook until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. While doing this, be sure to stir it occasionally and make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. If this is the case, add a few tablespoons of water. Remove the cover and taste; they should be sweet and tender.
In a large saucepan of rapidly boiling salted water, cook the noodles until tender but firm, about 8 to 10 minutes. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and stir into the cabbage. Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the cabbage and add with tongs. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve sprinkled with the cheese and garnished with the chopped fennel leaves.
Braised St. Patrick’s Day cabbage and corned beef with roasted kumquats
For 4 to 6 people.
Note: This easy skillet dinner makes a great St. Patrick’s Day meal with a lot less effort. The roasted kumquats add color and flavor, but feel free to leave them out. Serve this with parsley potatoes and a thick slice of Irish soda bread. By Beth Dooley.
• 12 kumquats, halved, seeded
• 2 TBSP. unsalted butter
• 1 small head cabbage, about 1 to 1 1/4 lb., seeded and thinly sliced
• 4 to 6 large Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced
• 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 to 1 1/2 pounds cooked corned beef, cut into 1-inch. pieces
• 1/2 c. beer or broth
• 2 to 3 tbsp. coarse mustard or to taste
• Chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the kumquats, cut-side up, on a baking sheet and toast until they begin to shrink and are slightly charred, about 10 minutes. Take out and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and add the cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onion, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover and cook until cabbage is slightly wilted but still crisp, about 3 minutes. Stir in corned beef, beer, mustard, and kumquats and continue cooking until corned beef is heated through, about 3 minutes.
Spanish cabbage stew
For 4 to 6 people.
Note: This rustic stew spiked with sherry vinegar is light yet filling. Serve it with plenty of crusty bread and a hearty manchego cheese for a light starter. It tastes even better the next day. By Beth Dooley.
• 3 TBSP. Extra virgin olive oil
• 1 onion, roughly chopped
• 4 garlic cloves, crushed
• 1 red pepper, diced
• 1 small kale or savoy cabbage, about 1 1/2 pounds, cored and thinly sliced
• Generous pinch of red pepper flakes to taste
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes with juice
• 2 to 3 teaspoons. sweet peppers
• 1 to 2 tbsp. Sherry vinegar to taste
In a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high and sauté the onion, garlic, peppers, and cabbage with a pinch of red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are wilted and tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and paprika, stir and chop the tomatoes. Increase the heat to bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Season to taste with the vinegar and adjust the flavors. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
For 4 to 6 people.
Note: This is one of those easy recipes that uses just a few simple ingredients and techniques to achieve surprisingly flavorful results. The cabbage wedges will be crispy and caramelized while the inside will be tender and crunchy. A balsamic glaze gives it a fine lacquer finish. By Beth Dooley.
• 3 to 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, shared
• 1 small head cabbage, about 1 pound, cut into 8 wedges
• Coarse salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tablespoon. balsamic vinegar
• 1 teaspoon. maple syrup or more to taste
Film a cast-iron skillet or heavy-duty skillet with 1 tablespoon oil. Set on medium heat. Season the cabbage on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the cabbage slices, cut-side down, in the pan and fry on one side until golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Using tongs, turn the cabbage slices over and continue cooking until golden and crispy, about 5 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons oil with the balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. Brush the fried cabbage slices with the glaze and fry again on both sides for approx. 30 seconds per side. Serve hot.
Sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls)
For 4 to 6 people.
Note: This recipe is inspired by sarma, a traditional Croatian dish. It sometimes includes ham along with beef, pork, and rice. The leaves need to be blanched to soften them before rolling them around the filling, but you can save some time by freezing the heads first to wilt the leaves instead of blanching them. The leaves are rolled twice, first vertically and then horizontally, to resemble small fists. Extra rolls freeze nicely.
• 1 large head cabbage, about 1 1/2 to 2 lb.
• 1/4 pound ground pork sausage
• 3/4 pound lean ground beef
• 1/2 c. uncooked rice
• 1/2 c. chopped onions
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed
• 1 egg
• 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
• 1 tablespoon. fennel seeds
• 1 tablespoon. Worcester sauce
• 1 tablespoon. dried oregano
• 1/2 tsp. Coarse salt
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 4c. drained sauerkraut
• 1 large onion peeled and sliced
• 1 fresh fennel bulb chopped
• 2 TBSP. Caraway seed
• 1 (28-oz.) can mashed tomatoes
• 1/2 c. White wine
• Chopped fennel leaves for garnish
Blanch the cabbage by submerging in a large saucepan of rapidly boiling water until the leaves are soft and pliable, about 5 minutes. After peeling off the outer leaves, you may need to blanch the cabbage again, as the inner leaves often don’t soften the first time you blanch them.
In a large bowl, combine sausage, beef, rice, onions, garlic, egg, nutmeg, fennel seeds, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, salt and pepper.
Peel the cabbage leaves and set aside. Make oblong balls of the meat mixture as if they could fit in a clenched fist, then place each ball at the bottom of a cabbage leaf. Roll the sheet vertically first, then horizontally. Place the sauerkraut, chopped onions, and chopped fennel bulb in the bottom of a large, deep saucepan. Place the cabbage rolls on top. Scatter over the cumin and add the tomatoes and wine. Place over medium-high heat, bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the cabbage is tender and when you cut it into a roll the flesh is no longer pink, about 35 to 45 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped fresh fennel.
Beth Dooley is the author of The Perennial Kitchen. Find them under bethdooleyskitchen.com.