Cabbage is one of nature's perfect foods. It's highly nutritious, inexpensive, long-lived, easily preserved, and rich in healthy phytochemicals. Cabbage isn't flashy, like it's cousin kale -- kickin' it in trendy smoothies and such. It goes about its business humbly; the business of being an incredibly versatile ingredient, of shape-shifting in flavor and texture in countless dishes. Yes, cabbage sizzles in stir-fries; simmers in soups, stews, and braises; adds healthy crunch to salads; and does wonders for casseroles, gratins, and meat pies -- cabbage does it all, and for a bargain price.
Kinds of Cabbage
Cabbage is one of the "cole crops." (Hence, coleslaw.) Other members of the family: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohrabi, and collard greens. Cabbage comes in four main types: Green, red (or purple), Savoy, and napa. They have in commmon layers and layers of alternating leaves, each cupping the next, forming a firm, dense head -- although the Savoy cabbage is a little looser, with more frill on the leaves. Let's take a look:
Red or Purple Cabbage
A smooth-leaved, dense cabbage. It's naturally crunchy, ready for raw salads. It also excels at slow braises and quick stir-fries. Red cabbages are harvested typically in late autumn. You'll notice when you cook red cabbage, it turns blue unless you're cooking with a little vinegar or other acid. Red cabbage has more iron than green and is a higher source of vitamin A, too. Check out our collection of Red Cabbage Recipes.
Another smooth-leaved cabbage, green cabbages are, along with red, the most abundant in grocery stores. Again like red cabbage, green cabbage has a crunchy texture -- and does the raw and the cooked with equal aplomb. Explore our collection of Green Cabbage Recipes.
Napa cabbage is also called Chinese cabbage. The word "Napa," incidentally, has nothing to do with California wine country. It comes from a colloquial Japanese word, "nappa," a general term for "vegetable leaves," not exclusively cabbage leaves. It's easily distinguishable from green and red cabbages by its oblong shape. Also, the somewhat wrinkly leaves are a very light green, which taper into a white stem. Napa cabbage is very popular in Asian cooking, including Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisine. It's typically the cabbage of choice for Korean kimchi. Explore Napa Cabbage Recipes.
Ruffled, curly leaves and a less densely packed head. The flavor of Savoy cabbage is more delicate than green or red cabbages. Here's our collection of Savoy Cabbage Recipes.
How to Pick Out a Cabbage
You want heads that are firm and heavy for their size but not too large. The leaves should be without blemish, of course, and crisp with a nice luster to the leaves. Look for fresh cabbages in the grocery stores between November and April. That's peak time for most cabbages.
How to Store Cabbage
Store whole heads of cabbage in a plastic bag in the crisper of your fridge for about a month. Sometimes a green or red cabbage will last as long as 6 weeks. Green and red cabbages stay the longest. Savoy cabbages are a little less durable, but they still stay fresh for a few weeks. For best results, leave the heads whole, and don't wash or cut them until you're ready to prep. Also, keeping cabbages chilled in the fridge helps them retain vitamin C.
Cabbage and Nutrition
Cabbages are nutrient-dense, phytochemical-rich powerhouses that provide plenty of dietary fiber and are a terrific source of vitamins C and K, plus vitamin B6 and folate. Other compounds in cabbages may have natural antihistamine, anti-cancer, and other disease-fighting properties. Fermented cabbages, meanwhile, like sauerkraut or kimchi, develop healthful probiotics. The Dutch and German navies sailed with barrels of vitamin C-rich sauerkraut to prevent the scourge of scurvy. Reaching further back, the Romans considered cabbage a hangover cure. And if you were Aristotle, musing about in ancient Greece, and you'd sampled a poisonous mushroom by mistake, you'd have chugged cabbage juice as an antidote.
How to Cook Cabbage
The key to cooking cabbage: don't overcook it. Cabbage is sweet and aromatic when cooked correctly. But the same sulfuric compounds that provide many of its health benefits can turn saboteur when overcooked, creating a pungent, unpleasant smell.
There are just so many ways to prepare cabbage. Steam, stew, and sauté cabbage; braise and grill it; and ferment it (sauerkraut and kimchi). Cabbage is also very tasty raw, of course -- say, with fish tacos or as coleslaw. Let's look at some recipes:
BRAISED AND SIMMERED CABBAGE:
"We're going to cook a very beautiful, super easy cabbage side dish. It's a little bit sweet and a little bit tangy, with a tiny hint of caraway to interest you." -- Chef John
"A delicious recipe. I followed the recipe, but did add one chunked up apple when I added the cabbage." -- quincy12
"This was a satisfying meal, nothing fancy, but just good, old-fashioned, home-cooked food. I did add more seasoning." -- lutzflcat
"An authentic and simple Chinese recipe for doing a healthy vegetable dish without losing any vitamins." -- Lynn Wheaton
SLOW COOKER CABBAGE:
"No more dry corned beef! Cook this in your slow cooker all day and you're guaranteed success!" -- LUSYRSGIRL
BAKED OR ROASTED CABBAGE:
"Loved the flavor and texture of the rolls. Did a double batch and froze half." -- aputler
GRILLED OR BBQ'D CABBAGE:
"This is a delicious way to use up cabbage, and a great way to make someone a cabbage lover!" -- ericasalad
"Love this dish! It doesn't make a mess of the kitchen and it gave me a chance to try out my new Spiralizer." -- Jen
"Step-by-step directions for how to make and can your own sauerkraut." -- MARCIAMOLINA
Check out our collection of Cabbage Recipes.