Top: Familiar green cabbage. Second: Purple cabbage (other varieties are red). Bottom: Savoy cabbage. Third: Savoy cabbage. Fourth: Bok choy or white cabbage. Photos courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco. Bottom: Napa or Chinese cabbage. Photo courtesy MG Produce.
St. Patrick’s Day evokes corned beef and cabbage—a dish the Irish learned in America, by the way, from immigrant Jews on New York’s Lower East Side. But we’d like to use the occasion for a plea:
Make cabbage the new kale. Even if you’re not tired of trendy kale, we sure are.
We’re turning back the clock. We were a cabbage lover before we ever heard of kale. Cole slaw and Nana’s stuffed cabbage were favorites while we were still in kindergarten. Next came sauerkraut on hot dogs and the braised red cabbage served with Sauerbraten, the German classic that marinates beef in vinegar or wine.
Cabbage is sharp and crunchy when served raw in salads and slaws. Unlike lettuce, it doesn’t wilt under dressing.
It becomes soft and suppple when braised over low heat, made into soup or cooked in casseroles. Heat brings out some sweetness.
It is both crisp and tender when grilled or added to stir-frys.
It plays well with other vegetables: brassicas, root vegetables, potatoes.
CABBAGE VS. KALE
Like kale, cabbage is a brassica (cruciferous vegetable), packed with anticarcinogen antioxidants.
It even has fewer calories. Here’s a nutritional comparison.
Eat This Not That highlights 10 greens that are healthier than kale. (This article, based on a report from the Centers For Disease Control [CDC], begs the question: When will chard become the next supergreen?)
Finally, it’s a much more versatile ingredient, as you’ll discover when you keep reading.
TYPES OF CABBAGE
With these choices, it doesn’t get dull:
Bok choy/white cabbage, crisp, broad, white stems with a nutty nuance; tender, deep green leaves that taste not unlike spinach.
Green cabbage, ubiquitous, slightly peppery when raw.
Red/purple cabbage, slightly earthier than green cabbage.
Savoy cabbage, deeper green color, beautifully crinkled leaves, thinner leaves with mild flavor.
Napa† cabbage/Chinese cabbage, oblong shape with frilly, sweeter, softer leaves.
You can use them interchangeably in recipes where the cabbage is chopped or sliced, like cole slaw or soup. The round heads are interchangeable, except when color or texture is important.
While they do have different flavors, bok choy and napa cabbage are interchangeable in stir-fries and braises.
Bok choy is white-stemmed with dark green leaves; napa cabbage is pale green with crinkly leaves.
Napa cabbage has a very mild flavor along with a peppery kick. Bok choy has a stronger flavor, similar to green cabbage.
WAYS TO USE CABBAGE
Baked cabbage chips (recipe)
Lettuce cup substitute
Soups and stews
Emeril’s favorite cabbage recipe has bacon and is simmered in beer.
We’d love to know your favorite cabbage recipe.
*The Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables includes arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, horseradish/wasabi, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rapeseed/canola, rapini, rutabaga and turnips, among others.
†Here, “napa” does not refer to California’s Napa Valley. The word originates from a Japanese term that refers to the leaves of vegetables that are edible. The variety originated near Beijing, China.