Cabbage may have a reputation as old-fashioned peasant food, but it’s at the center of a renaissance (kimchi, anyone?) This winter vegetable can take on so many different flavors and textures, it’s practically magic. Here are some of our best tips for working with cabbage, plus delicious new ways to prepare it from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Look for: Buy firm heavy heads of cabbage with tightly furled leaves and vibrant color. Color is an indication of freshness; green cabbages stored too long lose their pigment and will look almost white. To ensure freshness, check that the stem end has not cracked around the base. Compare similarly sized heads and choose the heaviest one.
Prep tips: Pull off and discard any wilted outer leaves. Remove the core, either by cutting the head into halves or quarters and slicing the core from the center, or by cutting out a cone at the base of a core. If you’re shredding or slicing cabbage for salads, a mandoline or food processor fitted with the shredding disk makes quick work of the task. Red cabbage turns pale blue when heated. To retain its vibrant red color during cooking, add a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice, or cook the vegetable with acidic ingredients like apples or wine.
Uses: Whole cabbage leaves can be briefly boiled or steamed until pliable and stuffed with savory fillings such as beef, barley or rice, then rolled and cooked until tender. Cut cabbage is often added to soups, braised until sweet and tender, stirred into fillings for dumplings, or tossed with dressing to make coleslaw. Sliced thinly, it can also add texture to other greens in fresh salads. Historically, cultures have depended on pickled cabbage for nutrients during long winters — sauerkraut and kimchi are the two most common recipes for preserving it.
Variations: Savoy cabbage, which has crinkled leaves, makes a pretty addition to coleslaws and salads. Napa cabbage, also called Chinese or celery cabbage, is elongated with wide, flat, white stems and wrinkly, pale yellow-green leaves.
Stuffed Savoy Cabbage: Blanch 12 large leaves from 2 savoy cabbages. Shred remaining cabbage. Saute diced bacon and onion until softened. Add minced garlic, thyme and shredded cabbage; cook until just wilted. Add 2 cups fresh bread crumbs, 2 beaten eggs, salt and pepper. Stuff cabbage leaves with filling. Place in buttered baking dish; add chicken broth. Cover; bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Drizzle with brown butter.
Asian Cabbage Slaw: Combine thinly sliced napa and red cabbage with julienned red bell peppers, chopped green onions and julienned carrots. Whisk together creamy peanut butter, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, minced ginger and honey; thin with water if needed. Drizzle dressing over cabbage mixture; toss to combine. Top with chopped toasted peanuts.
Warm Potato, Bacon and Cabbage Salad: Cook red potatoes in boiling salted water until tender; drain and cool slightly, then slice into rounds. Fry chopped bacon until crisp; drain on paper towels. Whisk olive oil and sherry vinegar into pan drippings; heat gently. Toss potatoes with thinly sliced savoy cabbage, bacon and warm vinaigrette. Sprinkle with chopped parsley or chives.
Braised Red Cabbage with Apples and Caraway: Saute thinly sliced onion in olive oil until softened. Add 1 thinly sliced Granny Smith apple, caraway seeds, cider vinegar, honey, red wine, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce mixture slightly. Add 1 shredded red cabbage. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage just begins to wilt. Uncover; cook until cabbage is tender.