Crazy for Cabbage

Get healthy with this tasty side

Stonewall BasketCabbagePhotographed by Jim Stott

Cabbage—inexpensive, versatile, and always available—could be the cure for what ails you and at the same time a delicious and nutritious vegetable dish. Most folks enjoy an occasional side of coleslaw, a bit of sauerkraut on hot dogs, or a boiled dinner around St. Patrick’s Day, but eating this humble vegetable on a regular basis could improve your health.

This vegetable has been cultivated in gardens for more than 4,000 years. Although we think of cabbage as Irish, the Celts actually brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 600 BC. Since cabbage grows well in cool climates, yields large harvests, and stores well during winter, it became a major crop in Europe for centuries. Greeks and Romans placed great importance on the healing powers of cabbage, thinking the vegetable could cure just about any illness. Egyptian pharaohs would eat large quantities of cabbage before a night of drinking, thinking the consumption would allow them to drink more alcoholic beverages without feeling the effects. Perhaps this is why many people still consider cabbage with vinegar as a good hangover remedy. Legend holds that Captain Cook swore by the medicinal value of sauerkraut (cabbage preserved in brine) back in 1769. His ship’s doctor used it for compresses on soldiers who were wounded during a severe storm, saving them from gangrene.

Stonewall SpicyThaiandShrimpPastaSpicy Thai and Shrimp Pasta

Today’s healthcare professionals agree that cabbage has many health benefits. It is sometimes used to treat digestive problems, stomach ulcers, headaches, obesity, skin disorders, eczema, jaundice, rheumatism, arthritis, gout, eye disorders, heart diseases, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease. Cabbage seems to stimulate the immune system, kills harmful bacteria, and improves circulation, which may help the ailments mentioned. The outer leaves are a good source of vitamin E, making it good for the complexion. Rich in vitamin C (raw white cabbage contains as much vitamin C as lemon juice) and sulfur, cabbage is like an edible health food store in a compact package. You can enjoy these benefits at just 24 calories per 3.5 ounces. Want to lose weight? There is a cabbage soup diet, all of which cuts calories in a satisfying and delicious way.

Many beautiful kinds of cabbage are in supermarkets and gourmet shops—green, Savoy, red, Napa, and bok choy. When shopping, always look for brightly colored leaves with crisp, moist-looking edges, fresh cut ends without browning, and heads that feel heavy for their size. Any yellowing leaves, bruised leaves, or mushiness (or even potential mushiness) anywhere? Leave it at the market. When cooking with red or purple cabbage, be aware that the compound anthocyanin, which gives the cabbage that beautiful color, will turn it blue when it is cooked with any alkaline substance. Adding a little vinegar to the cabbage while it cooks may help prevent the color change.

Stonewall TangyColeslawUnfortunately, the strong odors that fill a kitchen when cooking cabbage may keep some cooks from using it in recipes. When cabbage is cooked, the sulfur it contains actually multiplies! The trick to eliminating this offensive odor is to cook cabbage quickly in an open pan. The longer cabbage cooks, the stronger the smell it emits. Therefore, cooking cabbage all day long in a crock-pot is likely to leave the strongest odor. Avoid aluminum pans when cooking cabbage, since aluminum reacts strongly with fresh cabbage leaves and can cause more sulfur to be made. Also, try adding a little lemon juice, vinegar, or a bay leaf to the pot to help reduce the smell.

So stock up on cabbages of every color, test our tips and recipes, and enjoy!

Tangy Coleslaw

Serves 6

1 small red cabbage, cored and shredded
1 small cabbage, cored and shredded
3 medium carrots, grated
1½ teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
¼ cup flat parsley, minced
4 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
2 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar
salt and ground pepper to taste

In a large salad bowl, toss the two cabbages. Add carrots and mix well. Add the mustard, yogurt, parsley, and scallions and mix. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and toss.

Cover and refrigerate.

For variations, add:
Raisins, dried cranberries, or dried cherries
Slivered almonds or chopped toasted walnuts
¼ cup minced chopped basil or chives
3 slices crumbled bacon
Hot sauce
Lemon juice and lemon zest
¼ cup olive oil for a moister slaw

Spicy Thai and Shrimp Pasta

4-6 main dish servings; 8 side dish servings

For the dressing
¾ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon hot sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons tamari sauce
2 tablespoons peeled, grated fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the pasta
12 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked al dente, rinsed in cold water, and drained
1 pound medium to large shrimp, cooked, peeled, and deveined
2 (6-ounce) jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained and halved
½ cup chopped green onions
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
½ yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and julienned
½ red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and julienned
½ cup snap peas, trimmed, cut in half, and blanched
2 cups Napa cabbage, very thinly sliced
½ cup asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and blanched
½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Whisk to combine vinegar, sesame oils, tamari sauce, ginger root, and mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. In a large bowl, combine pasta, shrimp, artichoke hearts, green onions, cilantro, mint, bell peppers, snap peas, cabbage, asparagus, and tomatoes. Toss with enough dressing to coat. 

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