I love cabbage. Made into a crunchy slaw, lightly steamed with butter, pickled, stir fried, or rolled around ground meats, cabbage is a versatile, cheap, and nutritious vegetable. Cabbage is also accorded very little respect. For some, it calls up memories of stinky hallways in low-rent apartment buildings. For others, cabbage is passed over with a big yawn in the search for the latest exotic vegetables for your garden or table.
I’m here to change all that.
Or at least to put the lowly cabbage back on your radar screen.
First, one must pick a cabbage. And while Napa cabbage has its place, I far prefer the heavier, traditional style green cabbage pictured above. Which brings up another huge point in cabbage’s favor. Cabbage keeps really well. Unlike wimpy salad green mixes that quickly become green slime if you keep them more than a few days, cabbage remains fresh for weeks. You can use half a large cabbage for slaw on Monday and make a stir-fry on Sunday night with the other half, knowing the cabbage will still be perfectly fresh.
Nutritionally? Cabbage is a great source of vitamin C and fiber. When pickled, such as in sauerkraut, it has lots of gut-friendly flora and fauna—without the expensive price tag of most probiotic mixes. Making your own pickled cabbage is super easy and produces a fresher-tasting product. My husband makes some every year in the fall when cabbages are plentiful and fresh at the farmer’s market. Ingredients? Shredded cabbage, salt and time, combined in clean bucket with a lid. Pretty simple.
Don’t care for sauerkraut?
Cole slaw makes a super crunchy change from leaf lettuce salads, and while you can put a creamy, high calorie dressing on it, I prefer a vinegar based dressing that is fast and low-calorie. Apple cider vinegar is traditional, but a champagne or balsamic vinegar is really good too. For half a large green cabbage, use about a 1/4 cup vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and a teaspoon or two each of sugar and water. Combine ingredients well and pour over shredded cabbage.(of course, you can up the nutritional content by adding shredded carrots, green onions, or even add capers or chopped olives.) It’s a good ideas to make this salad first and let it soften while you prepare the rest of your meal, but you can make and eat it immediately too. Both ways work. Any leftovers keep well and can be used on sandwiches or as a quick snack instead of ubiquitous chips.
Not convinced cabbage is the best thing ever?
Onward my friends, to the main event. I like to include shredded cabbage in dishes where it doesn’t traditional have a starring role. This has turned out to be a good way to get my younger children to eat a vegetable they think they don’t like. (I’m not a fan of tricking kids, but I do like to leapfrog over their seemingly DNA-deep suspicion of anything green.) For example, I made a Shepherd’s pie for dinner the other night. Shepherd’s pie includes things all my kids like: meat and mashed potatoes. But I also included a layer of carmelized onions with julienned cabbage that I’d mixed with ground mustard seeds and garlic. My youngest picked out a few strands of cabbage, pronounced them onions, and ate them. I told her it was cabbage and she gently corrected me. Onions taste good, cabbage doesn’t; therefore, this had to be onions. Okay, honey.
Here’s another twist on a main dish. Cabbage rolls take a bit of prep time, but I think they’re worth it. This is also a dish that holds well. This is great for those nights when your family eats in shifts. Between tutoring sessions for college testing, music, dance and other commitments, we can’t manage to have family dinners every night the way we did when our children were small. So a dish like this is great.
I have made cabbage rolls with Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern (uses lamb instead of beef) and traditional European flavors, and they’ve all been well received. You may well have you own favorite flavors in your family. Just add the herbs and spices you love to the meat and you’re good to go.
I usually make the ground meat portion with bison, sometimes mixed with pork for tenderness. Cabbage rolls are a great way to use up leftover rice. I like brown rice in this dish, but white rice is fine if you have that. Otherwise, you’ll need to start this dish by making some rice.
I use approximately a pound and 1/2 of ground bison or grass-fed beef and 1/4 pound of fresh ground pork.(if you can get organic pork, all the better.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9×13 baking dish by lightly buttering the bottom and sides.
In a large mixing bowl, combine ground meat, a lightly beaten egg, 1 cup rice, several large, crushed gloves of garlic(more or less, to your taste), 2 tsp dried Italian seasoning, around 2 Tbs chopped fresh Italian parsley, 1 tsp salt and one of pepper. Mix well.
Meanwhile, bring a few inches of salted water to a boil and prepare the cabbage leaves. Remove at least a dozen leaves from the head and cut out the tough vein from the base of each leaf. Put into boiling water for a minute or two until they start to soften, then remove to paper toweling to let cool.
Shape the ground meat into oblongs about three inches long. You can vary this according to your preferences or the size of your cabbage leaves. Place meat packet at the edge of the cabbage leaf and roll up, neatly folding in the edges as you go. This packet can be secured with a wooden pick or simply placed folded side down in the baking dish. You should end up with a dozen or more packets.
For the Italian style cabbage rolls, I like to use a good quality bottled pasta sauce to which I add 1 cup red wine and a few teaspoons of sugar to reduce the acidity. Pour sauce over cabbage rolls, cover with foil and bake for around forty minutes. Remove foil and add a garlic bread crumb topping. (I like Panko bread crumbs, but any type works.) Bake for another ten minutes until crust is golden. Serve with bread or rolls.
Now are you ready to try something cabbage soon?
I hope so.