All about cabbage
“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things:
“Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax. Of cabbages — and kings —
“And why the sea is boiling hot — And whether pigs have wings.”
— Lewis Carroll in “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”
Did you have corned beef and cabbage last Friday? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 36 million Americans claim Irish ancestry – that’s nine times the population of Ireland!
In America, the traditional St. Pat’s Day meal for Irish Americans — and anyone else showing them solidarity — is corned beef and cabbage. In Ireland, it is bacon and cabbage.
Cabbage is native to Ireland, the British Isles, northern and central Europe. Greens like kale and cabbage (Oleracea var cytodeme) thrive in the mild, moist climate and are found growing wild on the Atlantic coast of the British Isles. Before potatoes arrived from South America, the average Irishman and woman consumed, on average, 65 pounds of cabbage each year.
Cabbage is popular around the world because it’s easy to grow, stores well through the winter, can be preserved with salt into kraut or kimchi. Kraut sustained ancient sailors on long sea voyages, providing important vitamins (like vitamin C) when fresh vegetables were unavailable.
There are more than 400 varieties of cabbage. Traditional European varieties include the common green cabbage, red cabbage and the more tender savoy. Asian varieties include the choys (pac choi, bok choy) and Napa. They’re more tender, easier to cut and cook faster than the European varieties.
Cabbage is inexpensive and nutritious. It is one of the top twenty vegetables sustaining world population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
One cup of shredded raw cabbage has just 24 calories, yet supplies more than half the daily requirement for vitamin C — as well as ample amounts of A and B vitamins. Cabbage (as well as other crucifers) stimulates the immune system, improves circulation, lowers cholesterol and kills harmful bacteria. It has the most health benefits when eaten raw. A study published in Food Science and Technology (March 2006) shows that the antioxidant polyphenols, such as anthocyaninis, protect brain cells from neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Many object to the smell of boiled cabbage, but that can be minimized through proper preparation. The odor associated with cooking cabbage comes from the volatile sulfur compounds that are released by heat — so it is important not to cook it too long. Overcooking also makes cabbage mushy and limp. By keeping the cooking time short, you avoid the odor and reduce the loss of nutrients.
Properly cooked, cabbage is a sweet, mild, delectable treat. From Europe to the Orient, it’s a main ingredient in many ethnic dishes. Cabbage is central to culinary traditions in European countries like Ireland, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Russia. It is also popular in Asian cuisines.
Cabbage is braised, sauteed, roasted, stuffed, stewed and simmered. It can also be sliced or shredded in salads, made into nourishing, probiotic kraut or kimchi, cooked as a side dish, baked in a casserole, stir-fried in Asian dishes, added to soups and stews, or used to wrap a variety of fillings.
In America, the most common way to eat cabbage is in coleslaw — “America’s favorite summer side dish,” according to the food magazine Bon Appetit. But there are many salads that can be made with cabbage. To cut cabbage into smaller pieces, remove the outer leaves, rinse, then quarter it and remove the core. Once this is done, it is easy to slice or shred.
What’s your favorite cabbage dish? Below are two of mine.
Variable Noodles and Cabbage
This traditional Eastern European fare has Polish, Hungarian and other ethnic variations. It’s a quick way to put dinner on the table in less than twenty minutes. This dish can be simply made with cooked pasta, cabbage and onions — but many things can be added.
1 Package egg noodles (or other pasta), 12 oz.
2 – 3 Tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion
1 medium cabbage, or about 5-6 cups sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cook noodles according to package directions.
While noodles cook, melt butter in a large skillet. Peel and dice the onion; add and cook about five minutes, until translucent. Wash core and chop the cabbage; add to skillet. Saute, stirring frequently, until tender but still a little crisp, about 10 or 15 minutes. Drain noodles and stir in.
This is a basic recipe. You can also season it with a couple tablespoons of grated Parmesan, or stir in some Hungarian paprika and some sour cream just before serving.
For a meatier main dish, add some diced cooked ham, or cook a half-pound of bulk Italian sausage first, then drained off some of the grease and proceeded with adding the onions and cabbage. For vegetarians, chopped hard cooked eggs added at the end make it a complete meal.
To vary flavor, cook some apples with the cabbage and onions, or stir in a cup or two of applesauce. Or add a can of diced tomatoes for a different flavor.
Cole Slaw with Variations
There are probably as many versions of this dish as there are cooks …
Ingredients for basic coleslaw:
4 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
A little salt and pepper (to your taste)
Mayonnaise or other dressing
Shred cabbage and carrots. In bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, salt and pepper if using and enough mayonnaise to moisten.
Option 1: For the dressing, combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream, 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons prepared mustard, 1 Tablespoon maple syrup (or 1 teaspoon Splenda), salt and pepper to taste.
Option 2: Omit mayonnaise and toss the veggies with 2 Tablespoons olive oil and 3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Add diced apples and toasted walnuts.
Asian slaw: Use Napa cabbage instead of traditional green cabbage. Add dr 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger, and 1 teaspoon sesame seeds. For the dressing, combine 2 Tablespoons sesame oil, 3 Tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 Tablespoon soy sauce and sweeten with a little honey or sugar.
Italian slaw: Use red cabbage. Add 1 trimmed and chopped medium fennel bulb, 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, 3 tablespoons drained capers, and 2 minced garlic cloves. For the dressing, use extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice.
Mexican slaw: Use green cabbage. Add 1 thinly sliced red bell pepper, 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1 small seeded and minced jalapeno chili, and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin. For the dressing, use 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 – 3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice.
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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Words Are My World.