About Cabbage

This week’s lesson: Cabbage!

Cabbage is the oldest and most widely grown of the Brassica family, and is a relative of kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. There are hundreds of varieties of cabbage, including the popular Green, Red, Savoy, Bok Choy, and Napa. Most cabbage heads have smooth leaves, except Savoy which has crinkly leaves. Cabbage is a cool season crop, and can be harvested in the spring and the fall. Cabbage is most traditionally used in making sauerkraut and kimchee, although it also makes great raw salads, and is a delicious addition to soups or stews.

How do you know when it is ready to harvest?
You can harvest cabbage anytime after the heads form tightly. Cut the cabbage heads at the stem once they have tightened up and are firm to the touch, but make sure not to wait too long or the head will crack or split, exposing the inner core. If the cabbage head does split, harvest it immediately so it is not exposed to the elements. If you planted cabbage in the Spring, you can harvest a later crop of cabbage sprouts in the Fall from the same plant. These sprouts develop on the stumps of the cut stem, once the main head has been harvested. The sprouts develop to 2-4 inches in diameter, and should be picked when firm. Cut as close to the lower surface of the head as possible, leaving the loose outer leaves attached to the stem where they will produce more sprouts.

How do you store it?
Green and Red head cabbage varieties can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, in the crisper drawer or loosely covered with a plastic produce bag. Do not wash until just ready to use, as the moisture will promote spoilage. If outer leaves start to wilt, just remove them. Savoy cabbage and other cabbages with looser heads will last only about 1 week in the refrigerator. Once cut, wrap the head tightly in plastic wrap and use within a few days of cutting.

How do you cook it?
All types of cabbage can be prepared similarly. Wash the outside of the cabbage, and peel away any damaged or wilting leaves. You may need to remove the core of the cabbage, and the easiest way to do this is to cut the cabbage into quarters, and remove the core with a small sharp knife. Cabbage can be eaten raw and shredded into slaws or salads. It can also be cooked in a variety of ways- boiled, steamed, braised, baked, sautéed, pickled, or stuffed. Some people associate cooked cabbage with an unpleasant smell, however that is only caused by over-cooking it. The longer the cabbage is cooked, the more it releases its odorous compounds. This reaction is also made stronger when using aluminum pans. To avoid the unpleasant odor, simply use stainless steel pots and pans, and cook briefly until just tender. To stuff the leaves, immerse the entire head of cabbage in boiling water for a few minutes (leave core in tact). Leaves will easily pull away from the base. You can then use the leaves to wrap around meat, cheese, grains, or any desired filling and bake it in the oven.

RECIPE:

This simple and easy side dish is a crowd pleaser at any party. The recipe calls for Napa (Chinese) cabbage, but feel free to substitute any variety of cabbage you like, or mix a few different types together!

Asian Salad
Yield 12 servings (3/4 cup each)

1/3 cup rice or cider vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 ½ TB vegetable oil
2 TB honey
2 TB low sodium soy sauce
1 TB butter
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 TB sunflower seed kernels
2 (5 oz.) packages Japanese curly noodles (chukka soba) or ramen noodles, uncooked, crumbled
8 cups shredded Napa (Chinese) cabbage
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup thinly sliced green onions

Combine first 5 ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Spoon mixture into bowl; cover and chill.

Melt butter in a large non-stick skillet over med-high heat. Add almonds, sunflower kernels, and noodles; cook 3 minutes or until lightly toasted, tossing occasionally. Spoon mixture into a large bowl; cover and chill.

Add vinegar mixture to noodle mixture; let stand 15 minutes. Add cabbage, carrot, and onions, tossing to coat. Serve chilled.