The Not So Humble Cabbage
Low in energy, high in fibre and rich in phytochemical antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, cabbage could almost sound like the latest ‘superfood’ trend! But no, this humble vegetable is generally cheap (even to buy organically), readily available throughout the colder winter months (often with just a handful of food miles to boot), and can be transformed into surprisingly delicious dishes. So banish all thoughts of those sulphurous, boiled strips of limp leaves from your head from now on – cabbage is a tasty and very versatile ingredient.
So what can a generous portion of raw cabbage supply us with? Firstly, it would only be about 18 kcal. Given that this is quite a generous portion of food, it’s very filling without any significant calories, and therefore great for anyone who is conscious of their waistline. It would also give you a useful dose of potassium, vitamin C, folate (also known as folic acid), vitamin A and vitamin K (1). Some of these vitamins are decreased with heat, especially boiling, so it’s best to go for minimal cooking (steaming would be ideal) wherever possible.
Just like kale, cabbages are also members of the Brassica family, and so are full of beneficial antioxidant compounds, including polyphenols, glucosinolates and anthocyanins, which may potentially be helpful in the prevention of certain types of cancer, as well as being linked to a number of other chronic conditions (2). One study found that it was the red cabbages, either fresh or pickled (such as in Sauerkraut), which have the highest antioxidant content (3).
Here are some top tips to look out for when buying cabbages;
- Look out for small – medium, dense, shiny heads. Organic cabbages are likely to have a few blemishes on the outer leaves, but they can always be trimmed off, and actually are generally a good sign that they haven’t been sprayed with all sorts of chemicals to keep them looking perfect.
- Try experimenting with different varieties (which will all have slightly different nutrition profiles, so you maximise the range of nutrients you are eating). Different varieties are ready at different times of the year, which means that the growing season in the UK can be as long as 10 months. The fresher the cabbage, the more nutritious it is.
- Try to eat your cabbage within a couple of days of purchase. Although they do keep really well in the fridge, the vitamins unfortunately start to degrade after a while.
- Ideally, try to buy cabbages without a plastic wrapping, but if you can’t avoid this, then remove it before you put the cabbage into the fridge.
And if you are after a simple, easy way to use up a cabbage as an accompaniment, I can’t think of anything faster than rinsing, shredding and lightly steaming it (for just 3-4 minutes), and then generously smothering the leaves in fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Goes perfectly with almost all hearty winter dishes.
So, here are my 3 delicious things to do with cabbage:
Sauerkraut is so easy to make at home and fun to experiment with. It might take a few batches to discover how it works best for you. It is important that you use organic vegetables so that no chemicals can interfere in the fermentation process. The same goes for salt, use pure sea salt free from anti-caking agents or iodine. I use Malden flakes.
- 1 medium organic cabbage, try pointed, white, savoy or red (about 500g)
- 4 tsp sea salt
You will also need:
- 1 large Kilner jar – sterilized in the dishwasher or very hot water.
- 1 smaller jam jar (or drinking glass) that fits inside the neck of the bigger jar, sterilized as above
- A large ceramic or glass mixing bowl
- Core and slice the cabbage into a bowl, add the salt and squeeze the cabbage with your hands. You should see a reduction in volume after a few minutes as the salt encourages the liquid out of the cabbage and it begins to wilt. Keep going until you have plenty of liquid then pack the cabbage and its liquid into the jar, pushing it right down until the liquid rises up over the cabbage. I use the base of a smaller jar or glass to push it down. It is important that the cabbage remain under the liquid level while it ferments so top up with a little water if it’s not wet enough but the volume will reduce as it ferments, so it becomes easier.
- Fill the small jar with water and leave on top as a weight to keep the cabbage underwater, leave the Kilner jar open but cover with a piece of muslin and leave to stand at room temperature somewhere it won’t be disturbed.
- After a day you should see bubbles rising up, check the cabbage is submerged and push down again. Depending on your kitchen, the season and where you live, getting to the right stage of fermentation could take a couple of weeks, if it is very cold, longer. After a week, taste a little every few days and when it is tangy enough for your liking, close the lid and store in the fridge.
- Red cabbage with savoy or white cabbage makes a beautiful ‘pinkraut’
- White or savoy cabbage and caraway seeds
- White or Savoy cabbage with turmeric, garlic and ginger
- Cabbage and carrots
- Carrots and ginger
Indian Spiced Coconut Cabbage
You’ll Need (Serves 2-3)
- 1-2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp coriander seeds
- ¼ tsp tumeric
- 1 pointed spring or Savoy cabbage, core removed & sliced
- 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp desiccated coconut
- juice of 1 lime
You will need to have all your ingredients measured out and chopped beforehand as this is an extremely quick dish to make.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, to medium high.
- Add the mustard, cumin and coriander seeds, they should sizzle and begin to pop after 30-45 seconds, do not let them burn or it will taste bitter.
- Add the turmeric, reduce the heat to medium, add the cabbage and chilli and toss until it is coated.
- Sprinkle over the coconut and toss again. This will take just a few minutes and the cabbage should retain some of its crunch, but become a lovely yellow from the spices.
- Sprinkle with lime juice, season with salt and serve immediately.
This can also be eaten cold the next day if you have leftovers.
Prawn, Sesame and Ginger ‘Gyoza’ in Cabbage Wrapper
I love Japanese steamed gyoza and discovered that cabbage leaves make the perfect easy wrappers. You will need a steamer pot, or bamboo steamer in a wok. These can easily be made ahead and cooked just before you are ready to serve.
- 1 Chinese Leaf, Savoy or pointed cabbage.
- 150g turkey mince
- 150g raw fresh tiger prawns, diced
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- 2cm of ginger peeled & grated
- 2 tbsp chives, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp coconut amino
- pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- 2 tbsp coconut aminos
- 4 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- Cut 2cm off the end of your cabbage and peel off 12-15 leaves and place in large bowl, stalk end down.
- Cover with a boiling water until the stalks become softened, this will depend on which cabbage you are using, Chinese Leaf is about 2 minutes, Savoy will take a bit longer. When they are soft drain and leave to cool.
- Finely cut the remaining cabbage and add to another bowl along with the rest of the gyoza ingredients and combine thoroughly.
- Lay a leave vein side down in front of you and place a heaped tablespoon of the mix at the base of a leaf and roll the white stalk up over it, folding in the edges as you go.
- Place the roll seam side down in your steamer and continue, making sure your rolls fit snuggly together. It doesn’t matter if they are more than one layer deep.
- Steam for 10-12 minutes until cooked and piping hot inside. Chop one open to test.
- To make the dipping sauce, combine the 3 ingredients in a jam jar, shake well and serve with the rolls, steaming hot.
(1) NDL/FNIC food composition database home page (2011) Available at: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov (Accessed: 2 December 2015)
(2) Cartea, M. E. and Velasco, P. (2007) ‘Glucosinolates in Brassica foods: Bioavailability in food and significance for human health’, Phytochemistry Reviews, 7(2), pp. 213–229
(3) Chun, O.K., Smith, N., Sakagawa, A. and Lee, C.Y. (2004) ‘Antioxidant properties of raw and processed cabbages’, International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 55(3), pp. 191–199.