Readers may recall that I recently made the bold assertion that cabbage will be the new fashionable food of the year, taking over from the ultra popular but possibly overexposed kale. Yes, my vote is on the humble, healthy, inexpensive and easy to find cruciferous vegetable to rise to number one. Since no doubt a majority of Portland's home cooks are in complete agreement, it’s time for the promised recommendations on how to prepare this ordinary yet extraordinary vegetable. (If you hoped I’d forget I’d even mentioned cabbage, please stop reading and nominate another vegetable for hip new food of the year. The ballot box is open!)
That there are so many ways to eat cabbage is one of the reasons I predict it to be the breakout hit food of the year. And that it's so darn healthy is another reason. It should be on frequent rotation in your kitchen and on your menu. Cabbage, like other cruciferous vegetables (the family also includes cauliflower, collard greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, turnips and arugula) is known to pack a punch in preventing cancer. According to Dave Lieberman and Anahad O'Connor in their book The 10 Things You Need to Eat, cancer researchers in the 1990s found, quite unexpectedly, that populations who regularly eat cabbage (peasants in Poland or Russia, for instance) had low rates of cancer – until they immigrated to the United States and stopped eating so much cabbage.
Evidently scientists have found that cabbage specifically contains compounds that "seemed capable of playing a role" in warding off breast, lung and prostate cancers, as well as heart disease, Alzheimer's, and other diseases. Lieberman and O'Connor write that "eating cabbage does appear to be a surefire way to help safeguard your health; that much is clear." Cabbage contains sulforaphane, which helps the immune system to combat carcinogens. It also contains high levels of the beneficial vitamins K (protects joints), C, and A plus calcium and other goodies.
So investing in a head of cabbage is a cheap way for most of us to add something new to our diet and lower our risk for disease at the same time. Cole slaw is a fine way to serve cabbage (read here about slaws), as are fermented dishes like the traditional Korean kimchi or German sauerkraut. (Fermenting the cabbage doubles up the superfood quotient.) For hot dishes, stir fries are the easiest way to introduce cabbage to your dining companions, especially if you let it accompany more common veggies like broccoli, onions, mushrooms and peppers.
For a more elaborate preparation, stuff cabbage with beef and rice (see recipe here). Or try this simple South Indian dish which focuses on cabbage and adds a delicate, subtle taste of coconut; the recipe is from Winter Harvest Cookbook by Lane Morgan.
Cabbage with Coconut
1/2 medium cabbage, sliced into thin ribbons
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 hot green chilies (or fewer, according to taste), seeded and chopped
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsweetened dried coconut
Steam cabbage about 5 minutes. It should still be crunchy. Remove from heat and drain. Do not dry. Heat oil in a skillet or large saucepan. Add onion, garlic and ginger and saute until onion begins to soften. Add chopped chilies and saute about 2 minutes. Add cabbage, reduce heat, and mix thoroughly. Add salt and coconut and continue to cook, stirring, until coconut is moist and cabbage is heated through. It should not be completely soft. Serve warm.
Note: green cabbage is most common, but you can use Savoy or Chinese cabbage, just adjust cooking time since these are more delicate and cook more quickly than the hearty workhorse green cabbage. Purple cabbage is also fine, but be warned it will produce a purple meal.