Thursday, 14 July 2011

What do I do with...cabbage?

I find it surprising how many of the people in those healthy eating type programmes, where the person's diet is given a makeover, don't recognise a cabbage, let alone know what to do with it. It strikes me as being one of the most commonplace of vegetables. However, just in case you're not familiar with it, here are some ideas as to what to do with this versatile vegetable.
When I was a child, I loathed cabbage... except for my Gran's pickled red cabbage (note: the link doesn't go to my Gran's recipe, that is lost to the grave, more's the pity), but then I was pickle-mad, it has to be said - I had been known to eat an entire bottle of gherkins in a sitting, and then drink the vinegar!

This iffy relationship was not improved when I went to boarding school and was regularly served a grey-ish substance that had once been cabbage, until the life was boiled out of it.

My relationship with cabbage now could hardly be further from that. And the same is true of my family. In fact, it is a miracle that my husband still has all ten fingers, because he regularly steals raw cabbage as I'm chopping it, and eats it straight into his mouth with a look of sheer bliss. Nor have I ever had to put up with the whinging my mother used to get at the dinner table: both my sons have happily eaten cabbage from the get go.

Until I moved to the UK, I only knew one kind of cabbage (other than red), and that was the sort that is known as green cabbage, here. There are also white cabbages which (as the name implies) are almost white, and very tightly packed. The leaves are much firmer and more brittle. But I think my favourite must be savoy cabbage. It is much darker, with curly leaves and has a stronger taste, somewhere along the road to Brussels sprouts, but not quite that strong.

Cabbage can be eaten raw in salads. There are scores of recipes out there for salads that involve cabbage. In the UK, the most popular is coleslaw. When I was a child, my Mom used to make a salad she (perhaps unimaginatively) called 'cabby appy' for family barbecues: cabbage and apple salad. This involved chopped cabbage and apple with raisins (and sometimes roast peanuts), all mixed up with mayonnaise.

All cabbages can also be steamed or boiled, but take care not to destroy the stuff completely until you're left with a barely identifiable, watery mass. I tend to steam mine and I like to add caraway or cumin seeds.

You can also use finely sliced cabbage very successfully in a stirfry with carrots, onions, bean sprouts, bell peppers, baby corn and sugar snap peas (and meat, if you like).

Cabbage is absolutely delicious in soups and stews, and it features heavily in a great many traditional European dishes, some of which I have even shared on this site, such as kåldolmar.

Cabbage is also the main ingredient of sauerkraut. You could make your own, or buy it from the supermarket and then use it in Polish bigos.

In researching this post, I have come across some fabulous sites offering cabbage recipes. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has some great ideas for red cabbage, while Cherie Stihler has dedicated an entire page to cabbages in general.

Image by richcd.

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