Photography by Jen Britton
In other words, we have growing seasons, like anywhere else. We just have better, less chilly versions.
The cabbage, that kale, the pebbly dark greens and elegant bok choy sustain us through winter, no matter how mild or harsh—and are the stalwarts of winter cuisine worldwide. On the Westside, they flourish in our verdant gardens from October to February.
You can find cabbage in dishes from almost every culture. Fermented (sauerkraut and kimchi), stewed, rolled, stuffed and made in to salads, it’s more popular than you may initially think, though not as freakishly faddish as kale.
Do you know what all of these have in common: Polish golabki, Greek lahanodolmathes, Vietnamese bap cai nhoi thit and Finnish kaalikääryleet? You guessed it: They’re all stuffed and rolled cabbage leaf dishes, from every corner of the world.
The associations we have with cabbage always seem to be “humble” or “peasant,” which is off, since it is such an important component of so many complex dishes. It might be time to rethink that notion. Let’s all give cabbage a chance!
Available at all of our local farmers markets, you can pick up a head from Windrose or McGrath farms or any number of other vendors and grocery stores.
When it comes to cooking, there are endless options for all seasons. In summer, there is nothing better than a thin-cut coleslaw soaked in vinegary mayo, or tucking in a tangled bed of pale green shreds as a crunchy base for your fish tacos. But in winter, we like to go hearty, with long and slow cooking that brings out the natural sweetness. Part of what makes cooking cabbage so different than other leafy greens is that it is low in water content. Unlike spinach, which wilts on contact with heat, you need to slow-cook cabbage to coax out the moisture and have it become meltingly sweet.
If you are planning on going that slow-cooking route, consider a choucroute garnie (the French-Alsatian one-pot meal of meat, sausages and sauerkraut).
What wine pairs best with your cooked cabbage recipe? We asked Roberto Rogness of Wine Expo in Santa Monica.
“I would hit that with rosé, sparkling preferred. The angle is to get some red wine flavors but with refreshing chill and acidity and bubble to lift it [the harsher flavors cabbage can have] off your palate.”
When it comes to choosing which variety of cabbage to use, you should consider that they all taste quite similar but have different textures. And in the case of red cabbage, you must consider that it is going to change color when cooked or when it comes in contact with acids like vinegar. With any variety, you want to seek out a heavy head, with a tight center and no noticeable browning, tears or holes. Of course, if you grow cabbages at home, you know they attract some of our less-than-appetizing garden critters, so always make sure to wash your selection carefully.
Here are a few of our favorite types…
Green: That lovely ball of smooth-leafed glory. And while the leaves are dense, the flavor is not as strong as some other types. This variety is the most widely available.
Napa: Also known as Chinese cabbage, this version is all about that thick, glorious white stem that is crunchy, low in calories and soaks up the strongest of flavors. Best for salads; this isn’t as fibrous as some of its cousins.
Savoy: Savoys have ribbed leaves and can be a vivid dark green or so pale as to appear yellow. Due to the texture of the leaves, they are almost elastic and work well for most recipes that call for wrapping. Because it isn’t very tough, Savoy is your best choice for using raw in salads.
Red: The stunning magenta of the red cabbage is due to the acidity of the soil it is grown in, but be aware that that majestic shade will turn bluish-purple when cooked. This is at its best when paired with pork and apples. Red cabbage also has the longest shelf-life.
No matter what type you pick, each variety is versatile. Being winter vegetables, they also all hold quite well in the refrigerator, usually up to four weeks for green and red and at least two for all the others.
So why not go out and get some cabbage this winter and build a dish around it? You could try pork chops with red cabbage, or maybe green cabbage with grainy mustard (recipe below) and herbs served with roasted salmon. Get crazy and put up some sauerkraut with juniper berries, or purée some into a potato soup. Although, simple and elegant cabbage dishes always seem to speak to the heart.
Ready for some recipes?
beer-battered fried avocado tacos with sriracha curtido
braised cabbage with mustard
single cabbage sauerkraut