With descriptives such as basic, sturdy, and compact, cabbage may very well be considered the wallflower of vegetables. Purchased by the head and almost always hanging around, choice cabbage has unblemished leaves making up hard, tightly packed spheres, the heavier the better. But as with so many things of real value, it’s what’s inside that counts, and when fall is upon us and cabbage is at its best, you might find it worth your while to take a second look. A member of the cruciferous family,
cabbage boasts almost twice the cancer-fighting phytonutrients compared to other vegetables, especially when not over-cooked. It contains so much vitamin C that Dutch sailors once relied on the fermented version, known as sauerkraut, to stave off scurvy. It was considered a cure-all by the Greeks and Romans, who ate it in large quantities, and the pickled version known as kimchi is currently hailed as Korea’s national dish.
Cabbage as we know it derives from a wild plant akin to kale, with leaves loosed and not shaped into a head. Napa and Celery Cabbage stay true to this heritage, slim and elongated in body with mostly white, ruffled leaves. Other varieties such as pak choi or bok choy, (choy meaning “greens” in Cantonese), are not always considered “true” cabbage and are actually types of Chinese chard. Red, green, and savoy are your three main types of head cabbage, with leaves ranging from shiny and green to crinkly and white. The red varieties with their deep purple leaves offer six to eight times more vitamin C and can be used interchangeably with green, but will discolor whatever they are cooked with. The compound anthocyanin that gives it such an alluring hue can also change to an odd blue when cooked in water, so be sure to add a teaspoon of something acidic, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine. Even if you forget and add it afterwards, the agent will still usually restore the original color. It just goes to show that even the humblest vegetable among us is capable of looking and tasting good, if given a bit of tender loving care.
Do Slice: Chopping or slicing cabbage releases its anti-carcinogenic agents. To get the maximum health benefits, enjoy raw or allow the cabbage to rest 5-10 minutes after slicing before cooking, then stir-fry or steam lightly.
Don’t Buy Shredded: The vitamin C content of this vegetable is greatly compromised if pre-shredded and stored for days, so it pays to buy fresh from your local growers and cut it to size yourself.
Do Buy Organic: As with any crucifer plants, cancer-fighting phytonutrient levels in cabbage are much higher in those organically grown as compared to those not.
Do Wrap: Cabbages are best kept wrapped in plastic in a cool place, and most varieties will keep this way for up to two weeks. If not using the entire head of cabbage that day, wrap tightly in plastic and store in the crisper of your refrigerator.
Do Stuff: For an easy, healthy version of the traditional stuffed cabbage, use the tender, sweeter leaves of the Savoy, spoon in any leftover rice or vegetable dish (quinoa pilaf works wonderfully), roll up into little packages, then bake until tender. They are delicious with a marinara sauce poured over the top when baking.
Do Juice: Raw cabbage juice is known for its restorative treatment of the stomach lining. Add a few fresh cabbage leaves to any juicing recipe; especially good with apple and a few carrots.