Market Fresh Finds: Cabbage deserves its worldwide appeal

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Cabbage has a long history of being cultivated and consumed in many countries. Cabbage belongs to the cruciferous family, a group of vegetables known for its sulphur-containing compounds and cancer fighting capabilities. A good source of vitamin K and C, cabbage is low in fat and calories and high in fiber. One cup of raw cabbage is less than 50 calories. Phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables contribute to fighting infections and healing wounds. This may be why the Romans used cabbage as a hangover cure as well as a wound dressing.

The most popular varieties of cabbage are green, red and Savoy. Napa, also known as Chinese cabbage, is used in many Asian dishes. It has a sweeter taste and more delicate leaves than other cabbages. Cabbage is very versatile as a recipe ingredient and is eaten the world over it is a dietary staple. China produces the most cabbage in the world, and Russia consumes an estimated 44 pounds per person per year. It can be steamed, braised, roasted and stir-fried. Stewed cabbage is commonly served alongside corned beef brisket on Saint Patrick’s Day. Most people are familiar with fresh cabbage as the main ingredient in coleslaw. However, shredded or thinly sliced cabbage adds a delicious crunch to sandwiches and wraps.

Spices enhance and compliment the flavor of many cabbage dishes. Add allspice to bring out the sweetness. Caraway seeds are a traditional addition to cabbage salads, soups and hot dishes. But use sparingly — caraway can be overwhelming. And add at the end of cooking to avoid an overcooked, bitter taste. Dill goes well with cabbage salads with vinegar-based dressings and mint adds a fresh taste mayonnaise-based coleslaw dressing, especially when combined with lemon.

Fermentation transforms cabbage into sauerkraut and kimchi. Fermenting is very different from pickling. In pickling, vinegar and/or salt are added to foods to create an acidic product for taste and food preservation. Cabbage is fermented by adding salt, which then encourages the growth of good bacteria already present on the leaves. These bacteria convert carbohydrates into lactic acid, giving sauerkraut and kimchi their desirable sour taste.

Early varieties of cabbage take about 70 days from planting to reach maturity, while late varieties take about 120 days. Cabbages are mature when they are firm and solid to the touch. Cabbages found in the vegetable section of your local store weigh on average 2 pounds with a yield of about 8 cups of shredded raw produce. The volume is reduced by half when cooked. Large heads found at produce stands or farmers markets may be labeled as sauerkraut cabbage and weigh about 20 pounds or more. These will be denser and contain less water. The world’s largest recorded cabbage head weighed in at 138 pounds!

Fresh cabbage will keep for several weeks when stored in a plastic bag or wrap in a refrigerator at 41 degrees or lower. It is not recommended to can cabbage, due to its strong flavor, unless fermented or pickled first. Cabbage can be frozen to be used in cooked recipes later, such as cabbage or egg rolls.

Cabbage is an inexpensive, adaptable vegetable to be enjoyed throughout the year.

For additional cabbage preservation tips, recipes and serving suggestions, check out Chef Scotty’s Market Fresh Recipes at http://ext100.wsu.edu/clark/?p=8163.