Cabbage is part of the Brassica family and is believed to be native to the Mediterranean region. There are three distinguishing cabbage families—stem cabbages like kohlrabi, kale, collards and Chinese cabbage; smooth and curly-leafed such as Savoy, red, white and green head cabbages; and inflorescent cabbages like broccoli and cauliflower. It has a long history dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and was prized for its medicinal properties. There is proof that the Romans advised one to eat lots of cabbage with vinegar before a banquet when one plans to “drink deep.” The Egyptians apparently ate cabbage to help keep them sober. It also has history in linguistics, with “cabbage head” implying stupidity.
That being said, cabbage is far from stupid when it comes to good nutrition. It contains lots of vitamin C and is also high in the B vitamins. Red cabbages contain more vitamin C than the green ones. Be aware, though, that lengthy cooking of cabbage will tend to minimize its nutritional value. Pickling or fermenting your cabbage will preserve its vitamin C content to help get you through the cold winter months.
This week we will have three kinds of cabbage on the stand: savoy, napa, and head. Napa Cabbage is my favorite of the three. It is long and oval shaped, not round, with beautiful white veining throughout its light yellow-green, pretty ruffled leaves. The inside main vein becomes very wide and smooth and the leaves are almost like little plates. It is a mild cabbage, full of flavor and low in calories. One cup of raw cabbage is only 20 calories, and when you consider how hearty and substantial it can be, that is a really good deal!
Napa cabbage first became popular in the United States around the 1970’s. It gets its name from the popular California wine valley where it was first cultivated in the U.S. It is thought to be a cross between bok choy and turnips and has great flavor, a bit milder than regular green cabbage, with a nice crisp texture.
Use Napa cabbage leaves to make cabbage wraps, filling the leaves with vegetables and/or grilled meats. You can steam fish wrapped in a cabbage leaf too. You can add it to soups, make Napa cabbage coleslaw, add it to tossed salads for added crunch, and use it in stir-fry dishes. Unwashed, Napa cabbage will keep for about five to seven days in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
Keep your cabbage stored in the refrigerator but do try to serve it at its freshest—it will have a lovely sweetness that older cabbages (like the ones from the grocery store) tend to lose with time. It can be eaten raw in coleslaw, pickled as sauerkraut, added to soups and stews, boiled, steamed, braised, stir-fried and stuffed. A small splash of vinegar toward the end of cooking will help to enhance the flavor of cabbage. Some people object to the smell of cooking cabbage, which can be a bit sulphuric. If the smell bugs you try not to cook it too long—the longer you cook it the more it will smell! Some folks claim that adding a whole walnut or a celery stalk to the cooking water will help to minimize the odor. Some flavors that go well with cabbage are fennel seed, butter, vinegar, sweet and sour, apples, onions, chile peppers, garlic and ginger.