“Cabbage pairs admirably with anchovies, apples, bacon, butter, caraway seeds, cheese, chestnuts, chicken, cider vinegar, corned beef, cream, duck, mayonnaise, nutmeg, pancetta, pasta, potatoes, pulses*, pork, rice, salmon, smoked meat, sour cream, veal and walnuts.” — Leanne Kitchen, The Produce Bible.
Cabbage defies expectations. First, we associate it with fall vegetables when, in fact, cabbage heads can be harvested throughout summer and fall. Because it’s often prepared badly, we assume it’s not very tasty when, in fact, prepared well, it’s delicious cooked and raw. Finally, as a vegetable, cabbage is incredibly nutritious with vitamins C, B6 and K as well as potassium, manganese, folate and lesser quantities of iron, betacarotene, thiamin and riboflvin. (Savoy, the crinkly-leafed cabbages we call Napa, is very rich in betacarotene.) It’s no wonder that medieval seafarers traveled with cabbage to prevent scurvy, and the Romans ate it often believing it promoted health and a good disposition. The Chinese first pickled it and shared the technique with Europe, where sauerkraut is a staple.
You can begin to harvest cabbage in mid-summer when the first heads begin to form and can stagger your crop so you have cabbage into late fall even past frost. Cabbage likes cool weather and is not harmed by early frosts. In the spring, watch for cabbage worm — small, lime green worms, and slugs that may infest your planting. If you spot either, pick them off by hand and feed to the robins who love them. (I drop them in the bird bath and they always disappear quickly.)
Select heads of cabbage that are firm, tight-leafed without brown or yellow leaves. You may need clippers to cut the thick stem. Remove the loose, outer leaves — which the plant cleverly uses to shade and cool itself during summer heat — and dig up the root for your composter. Core and wash well. Looser-leafed Napa cabbage will store in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic without loss of texture or flavor for 4-5 days while red or green cabbage will keep 7-10 days .
Standard summer fare for my family is a peanut coleslaw adapted from Mollie Katzen’sStill Life with Menu cookbook.
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 tablespoons brown or cane sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 small head of shredded green, red cabbage or mix, about 7-8 cups
crushed red pepper to taste
1 teaspoons salt
very generous 1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts
1. In a large bowl, mash together peanut butter and hot water until well mixed. Add vinegar, sugar, salt, soy sauce and oil.
2. Add cabbage in 2 cup increments, mixing well. Add red pepper.
3. Cover and refrigerate 4-24 hours before serving. (Overnight really adds to flavors.) Give a good stir every couple of hours.
4. Add peanuts right before serving.
Here’s a great braised cabbage recipe adapted from Leanne Kitchen’s Produce Bible. I serve this with sausage, poultry or fish. It could also be served nicely with pork chops (See also Kitchen’s recipe for pork chops.)
1 onion finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small red cabbage, shredded
1 sweet apple, peeled, cored and finely sliced
1/3 cup red wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped sage
Heat olive oil or butter in a large pan. Add the onion and garlic, stirring often over medium heat until softened. Add cabbage, apple, wine, vinegar, nutmeg and sage. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 30 minutes over very low heat. If any residual liquid, uncover and cook, stirring often, over a slightly higher heat until evaporated.
How do you defy expectations or preserve family traditions with cabbage?
* Pulses are vegetable stews made with legumes such as lentils, peas, beans and similar seeds from pods.