Of Cabbages And Kings

Few vegetables are as lowly as the cabbage. But then, few vegetables have their very own day. March 17 isn't just St. Patrick's Day; it's cabbage's, too (even if it does have to share the honors with corned beef).

Technically, cabbage is a family name that refers to a wide variety of common vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and collards, but the most common varieties of what we think of as cabbage are red cabbage, Savoy, bok choy, and the standard green variety.

The most important thing to keep in mind about cabbage is that it benefits from long cooking times. It stews and braises well, but if you're going to sauté it or add it to a soup, you should blanch it first by submerging it briefly in boiling water.

Classic Corned Beef and Cabbage is simply a corned brisket of beef simmered in water with peppercorns, onions, and carrots. But even though that's the traditional way to honor St. Patrick, he probably wouldn't mind if you branched out and decided to try another use for cabbage.

Look for cabbages with tightly closed leaves and a firm feel. Remove the outer leaves and the core, and you're ready to go.

  • Stuff it. If you're patient and dexterous enough to stuff cabbage leaves, you're in luck. Almost any combination of ground meat, rice or bread crumbs, vegetables, and spices can be cabbage stuffing. Try variations using ham, veal, raisins, pistachios, mushrooms, allspice, nutmeg, or tomato paste.
  • Experiment with kimchi, spicy Korean fermented cabbage. It's available in many supermarkets and Asian specialty stores, and works well as a side dish for fish or shellfish.
  • Try a simple slaw of shredded cabbage, red onion, and carrot with a mustard vinaigrette and caraway seeds. Or use cabbage and apple with a sour cream or yogurt dressing.
  • Serve pork or game with a classic side dish of red cabbage braised in red wine with apples.
  • If you're ambitious, try making your own sauerkraut. If not, use the packaged kind; warmed up, it's a great side dish for sausages or smoked meats.
  • Use napa cabbage in a stir-fry. It cooks more quickly than other cabbages, and will wilt in just a few minutes in a hot skillet.)

So if you've never liked corned beef, try cabbage with something else. St. Patrick won't mind.

Napa Cabbage Kimchi

5 lbs napa cabbage
1 cup coarse salt
2-1/2 cups water
2 tsp gingerroot, finely minced
1 cup red pepper powder
3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp garlic juice
1 cup onion juice
3 Tbsp coarse salt
1 bunch of scallions, cut into 1 inch lengths

1. Start by roughly chopping the cabbage into 1" pieces. Place in a large container. Dissolve 1 cup of coarse salt in 2-1/2 cups of cool water and pour over the cabbage. Mix thoroughly; cover and let stand in refrigerator for 6 hours, giving it a good mix about halfway through. Remove from the fridge and drain and discard all the liquid.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the gingerroot, red pepper powder, sugar, garlic juice, onion juice, salt and scallions. Allow flavors to meld for ten minutes. Pour the seasoning mixture over the cabbage and mix well to distribute evenly.

3. Place the cabbage in a large jar or container and cover the surface directly with plastic wrap, pressing down to remove any air bubbles. Allow to ferment for 24 hours at 70°F. Chill before serving.

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