Everything You Need To Know About Cabbage
More heads are better than none.
Not all cabbages are created equal. The cabbage family tree has a lot of whacky branches. The brassica genus ranges in shape and size from the leafy round Savoy to the prolific loose-leafed kale and pale, straight napa cabbage. Weirder still is the relation to the not-so-distant relatives broccoli, mustard and bok choy.
If you blind taste test the assorted brassicas you will find they share a sweet crunch with a faint sulfurous flavour that increases with prolonged cooking. Boiled cabbage is a sad smell, conjuring images of Depression-era soup lines.
A classic crash diet boringly named “the cabbage soup diet” will help you shed pounds fast if you eat little more than boiled cabbage for seven days. Now that’s depressing.
But cabbage is not a sad vegetable. It is slawesome with barbecue and rocks out in cabbage rolls. As kimchi it punches up Korean food, and as sauerkraut it is the base of the famous Alsatian dish choucroute garnie.
Preparing your cabbage
If you need to soften your cabbage for rolling up cabbage rolls, the traditional way is to chuck your head of cabbage into a clean snow bank overnight to freeze and thaw it out the next day. The technique will soften the skin for easy rolling. It will also soften your skin, which is why the same treatment is offered to people in Siberian spas.
In warmer climes, cabbage stays raw as a slaw to add bright juicy pop to barbecue. Shredded raw cabbage needs a shot of acid from citrus fruit or vinegar to keep it crunchy and sweet. Skipping the mayonnaise in your slaw will help it stay crunchy.
Cooking with cabbage
The best way to keep cabbages around longer is to ferment them. There are a couple ways to do that.
Sauerkraut is the European method, where shredded head cabbage is stuffed in a fermenting barrel with lots of salt. Eventually, the naturally occurring microbes get to work on all the sugar and break it on down. The classic choucroute garnie is basically an obscene pile of sauerkraut topped with a pile of sausages served with big steins of beer. It’s the ultimate sausage party.
Napa cabbage is the sexiest of all cabbages. They are lovely and long, loosely packed with lots of white stalk and light yellow-green colouring. They are fantastic raw and even better as kimchi. To make kimchi, cabbage pieces are packed into jars with chilies, garlic and other aromatics, then left to ferment. When you eat a good kimchi, your tongue should tingle (tingling good, swelling bad) from the active carbon dioxode. It feels funny, but you quickly get used to it when you are eating it with white rice and salty braised pork shoulder.
With so many cabbages to choose from, more heads are better than one.
Why eat it now?
Cabbage is one of the few vegetables grown locally that’s actually in season in January, so now is the time to show cabbage some love.
Arirang Oriental Food Store
Kimchi and some fresh cabbages.
1324 10 Ave. S.W., 403-228-0980
Good selection of brand name kimchi and Bubbies classic sauerkraut.
4625 Varsity Dr. N.W.,403-288-6700, and 10233 Elbow Dr. S.W., 403-252-2404, planetorganic.ca
Best variety of fresh cabbages in the city, including napa, Savoy, round, flat, bok choy, gai lan and lots of varieties of kimchi.
999 36 St. N.E., 403-569-6888, and 9650 Harvest Hills Blvd. N.E., 403-237-6608, tnt-supermarket.com
Ferment your own cabbage
Learn to make sauerkraut at the Light Cellar in Bowness. The shop has classes and all the equipment you need to make a big batch of homemade kraut.
6326 Bowness Rd. N.W., 403-453-1343, thelightcellar.ca