By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
I’m on a crusade to keep cabbage from being the forgotten vegetable, the lowly and rarely seen side dish on restaurant menus, and the unwanted kitchen guest regarded as too smelly when you cook it. Enough is enough. Cabbage is a great vegetable and it’s time to celebrate it (just because I say so!). I’m not the only one on this path. Did you know that there is even a National Cabbage Day and it was last Friday on Feb. 17?
A day doesn’t go by without a head of cabbage in my fridge. For real. Why, you might ask? I use it as the base for my lunch salad almost every day. Upon returning from my lap swim and a shower, I build my humongous bowl of greens. The cabbage gives the salad that sustained crunch, crunch, crunch. You really feel like you’re eating something. I add any of these more tender greens: arugula, spinach, field greens, or romaine hearts. Sometimes fresh herbs.
From there, I add some fresh fruit: oranges, apples, or pears, nuts (peanuts or almonds), cheese (chèvre or feta), and a few other veggies. A splash of good balsamic vinegar, coarse salt and fresh pepper–voila! I crunch away for at least a good 30 minutes. I’ve got this down to a science after doing it daily for years. You ought to try it.
Cabbage has quite a pedigree. Its origin (from the Brassica genus) goes way back to 4000 B.C. in China and 3000 B.C. in Europe. It arrived in the Americas with the French explorer, Jacques Cartier, in the mid-1500s. It was an important vegetable on sailing vessels for three main reasons: it has high water and Vitamin C content, both useful when out to sea. Also, cabbage has a long shelf life out of refrigeration.
The countries that produce and eat the most cabbage are China, India, and Russia. Being such a versatile vegetable, it can be eaten raw but also stewed, pickled (like Kimchi), braised, sautéed, boiled, or even roasted. From wild cabbages came the cultivation of broccoli and cauliflower. “Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education,” said author Mark Twain. I love that!
Cabbage, like other cruciferous vegetables in the genus Brassica, often causes gas. Many people have trouble digesting these vegetables, probably because of their high fiber content. They’re most troublesome when eaten raw, though this is not a problem for me because I have a cast-iron stomach. The best way to reduce the gassiness of cabbage is to either cook or ferment it.
Cabbage grows well in colder climates because it is frost-hardy. My sister, Marcia, traveled to Anchorage last August and attended the Alaska State Fair in Anchorage. Of all things, the fair officials held two contests celebrating cabbage because the vegetable thrives in their cold temperatures. One is a giant cabbage growing contest. Last year, the winner raised a head weighing in at 84 lbs! The second contest was for limericks pertaining to cabbage. Marcia, being a poet, submitted this poem:
From Bully to Slaw
The giant green cabbage had gall.
It bullied the sprouts who were small.
One day all the Brussels
Ganged up with their muscles
And minced up the cabbage, now slaw.
The health benefits of cabbage are also a great reason to dine on this wonderful vegetable. It is high in fiber and low in calories. Besides vitamin C, it has anti-inflammatory properties and is good for heart health. There are many varieties to try, some with a more “cabbage-y” taste, like classic heads or milder types, like Napa.
On our road, about a half mile down from our house, are two large planting fields that are leased out to different farmers. Last spring, both fields were planted with rows and rows of head cabbage. When they ripened, I was tempted to get my knife out and hack away at a head, but no, that was stealing. I waited and waited for those cabbage to be harvested. NO one ever did! They rotted in the field for months. Do you want to know what that smells like on a hot day? I didn’t think so.
I asked around as to why the field was never picked. The answer just broke my heart. The price of cabbage had dropped so low that it wasn’t worth the investment to hire a crew to harvest because they wouldn’t come out ahead financially. All of those acres of cabbage went to waste. There are hungry people everywhere who would have benefited from these vegetables. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
In my recipe offering today, I’m doing a traditional Eastern European preparation. It is hearty and delicious. I’m using pre-cooked chicken sausage but feel free to use cooked kielbasa or any other favorite sausage. If you are vegan or vegetarian, just skip the meat and the steps cooking it. The cabbage will still be great.
Tell us at The Insider if you’ll jump on the cabbage bandwagon and begin cooking it and eating it more often.
Beer-Braised Cabbage with Sausage
Yield: 6 servings
3-4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
12 oz. cooked sausage links (chicken, kielbasa, vegan)
1 lg. onion, cut in half, then in thin slices crosswise
2 lb. cabbage, knife shredded
1 lb. small Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2” thick slices
1/2 bottle of dark beer
1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large sauté pan or braiser, heat the oil over moderately high. Brown the sausages on all sides. Remove to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, cut on the diagonal in 1/2” pieces. Reserve.
Turn pan heat down to medium. Add the onions. Cook until translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Add the cabbage. Cook until wilted, about 10 minutes.
Add the potatoes and the beer. Add seeds if using. Bring to a boil; turn down to a simmer, cover for 15 minutes. Add the sausage. Remove lid, increase heat to moderately high. Cook until the cabbage has browned and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes.
Can be served with a hearty rye bread.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.