One Ingredient, Many Ways: Cabbage
Enlarge Image Credit: Christopher HirsheimerSometime in early elementary school, my best friend invited me over for her mom's annual St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage supper. I accepted, but as a notoriously picky child (even pizza, with its cooked tomatoes and suspicious-looking melted cheese, was too much for me), it was not without hesitation. The corned beef itself was not an issue; growing up a few blocks from a delicatessen, my affection for briny, pickled meat was already well solidified. But cabbage was an unknown entity — worse yet, it was wrinkly, sulfurous, and quite solidly a vegetable.
Still, the potential for post-dinner playtime loomed promisingly, so I resolved to grit my teeth and endure as many bites as necessary to feign enjoyment. Turns out there was no need to pretend: uder the influence of a long simmer, the cabbage had grown tender and translucent. Rich with melted butter and lightly spiked with pepper, it sat proudly next to the thick slices of corned beef. I finished my plate, and asked for seconds.
Since then I have learned that, despite my own childhood apprehensions, cabbage has consistently held rank as one of the most widely cultivated vegetables throughout history. Likely originating in the Mediterranean, it was a favorite of the Romans for both eating and medicinal purposes, and was prized by the medieval Saxons. A relative of Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and other cruciferous plants, cabbage in all its varieties — from the iceberg lettuce-resembling green, to the wrinkly savoy, magenta-colored red, and watery Napa — shares its cousins' crunch and gently spicy bite, which mellows considerably when cooked. Over the years, I have come to love it in all of its best iterations: tangy and fermented in kimchi and sauerkraut, crunchy and bright in coleslaw, dressed up with cream in a gratin, or deliciously soft as an edible wrapper in holishkes (stuffed cabbage). The expansion of one's vegetable horizons may be a strange thing to be grateful for. But when it comes to cabbage, I can't help but be thankful for best friends.
SAVORYCorned Beef and Cabbage
Get your Irish on with this super-traditional dish featuring tender-cooked Savoy cabbage.
Cabbage and Noodles
Wide egg noodles and butter-browned cabbage combine in this Austrian comfort food dish.
This fermented Korean condiment is sweetened with ginger and Asian pear.
Sarmale Stuffed Cabbage
Ground beef seasoned with dill, thyme and onion fills these cabbage packages.
Red Cabbage Gratin
This indulgent side dish softens shredded red cabbage in cream and tops it with bread crumbs, walnuts and Parmesan.
Cabbage and Radish Slaw
This simple salad brightens cabbage and thinly sliced radishes with a splash of cider vinegar.
Hawaiian Style Sesame Cabbage Salad
Instant ramen noodles add surprising crunch to this delicious slaw.
A bit of cabbage kimchi livens up these fried savory pancakes.
SPICYSpicy Cabbage and Chorizo Soup
This riff on the traditional Portuguese soup, Caldo verde, replaces the more common kale with savoy cabbage and spices things up with chile flakes.
Spicy Cabbage and Chicken Salad
This Vietnamese salad gussies up shredded chicken and cabbage with chiles, fish sauce, and rice vinegar.
Stir-fried cabbage gets a hit of heat from cumin, black mustard seeds, and serrano chiles.
Hot and Sour Cabbage
Red chile oil gets drizzled over the top of this napa cabbage dish.
Dress up traditional sauerkraut red onion and lots of chile flakes.
Lexington Red Style Slaw
Mild hot sauce mixed with ketchup lends a lovely red hue and touch of heat to this North Carolina slaw.
Dry Cooked Cabbage with Tofu and Peas
Chile and spices lend extra flavor to a simple dish of cabbage and tofu.
Leah Koenig is a freelance writer and author of The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen.