One of the least expensive and most available of all vegetables, cabbage is a food staple in Europe and northern Africa and has been around for more than four thousand years. Long associated with boarding-house cooking and lingering smells, cabbage has been reinstated as one of the members of the important crucifer family--vegetables that contain important anticancer nutrients.
The problem with cabbage is the usual one: most people overcook it. When it's cooked quickly and evenly, cabbage has a mild, sweet flavor and a pleasing texture; eaten raw, it has a spicier flavor and crunchy texture.
The difference between green and white cabbage is that the green comes straight in from the field, while the white has been blanched. In upper New York State, for example, growers cut the heads and then bury them in trenches to blanch the leaves and protect the heads from freezing. This method gives us cabbage all winter long. Many people think that cabbage with a touch of frost on it is sweeter too.
Savoy cabbage has puckered wrinkly leaves and forms a looser head. Red cabbage is a different variety altogether. Both are good simmered in vinegar and allowed to cool overnight, then served as a side dish with veal or pork.
Available year round at reasonable prices.
Select hard, round heads with crisp outer leaves that are free of rust or yellowing. Red cabbage and Savoy cabbage should be crisp and brightly colored. None of them should show black edges or other signs of rot.
Refrigerate in a plastic bag or in the crisper drawer. Cabbage will keep well for weeks. If the outer leaves turn yellow or dry out, just peel them off. The cabbage underneath will still be good.
Pull off and rinse the green outer leaves for stuffing. The head may be cut into wedges for steaming, sliced thin for sautˇing, shredded raw and mixed with salad greens, or made into coleslaw. For a tasty winter salad, shred cabbage together with apples and carrots, then add raisins and nuts and toss with a dressing. Cabbage is excellent added to stir-fries, pickled, made into sauerkraut, or cooked and served with corned beef, smoked pork, or German sausage.
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