By Dave Adamshick
With kale and chard continuing to trade turns as the trendy ingredient everyone is talking about, isn’t it time we found a new vegetable crush? While my market colleague, Jaret, predicts spinach is due for a turn on the top, I believe we’re at the dawn of the age of cabbage. For openers, there is a degree of familiarity. Like kale and chard, cabbage is a member of the brassica family. With over 400 varieties of cabbage being cultivated, one could spend a year trying a variety a day and two on Sundays.
Admittedly, although cabbage has been cultivated since before written language, its moment of glory has yet to arrive. It came close once. Greeks and Romans believed eating cabbage at a banquet would prevent you from getting drunk, but that just guaranteed its ubiquity, not acclaim. (Warning to tailgaters: experience tells me sauerkraut does not remedy beer ineffective).
In medieval times, written records prove the plant was held in disdain, apparently only fit to eat by peasants. Modern writers extol cabbage’s high Vitamin C, betacarotene and potassium content, which is great for marketing the latest sports drink, but perhaps not so much for creating desire at mealtime.
I implore you to give this often overlooked vegetable another chance. Now is the season for hearty veg and cabbage is as hearty as they come. Try it in stews, soups, smothered chops, kraut or, if you’re lucky enough to make or source them, pierogis. Stuffed with mushroom and cabbage, these little Polish dumplings just taste like fall. Keep it simple by cooking a one pot meal of green cabbage with kielbasa, bacon and apples. Washed down with a beer or cider, you’ll be adding a protective layer of insulation just in time for the cold and damp of winter.
Although cabbage stores well and is available year around, now is the time to stop by area markets and check out some more unusual varieties. Savoy, the cabbage whose textural leaves lend themselves to stuffing with ground lamb, cooked rice and tomatoes makes for a seasonal treat. Napa cabbage, with oblong leaves that are crispier, juicier and lack that heavy cabbage flavor, goes well sesame oil or peanut sauce. Try lightly braising red and purple varieties Italian-style in red wine and tossing it with gorgonzola and vinegar.