By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE
Green cabbage, red cabbage, Napa, bok choy, radicchio, treviso, Belgian endive, ... So many varieties of cabbage to select from! Here’s an introduction to types of these leafy vegetables, preparation tips, and some creative uses.
Green and red cabbage are usually available at most markets, can be eaten fresh or cooked, and have a relatively long storage span. Napa cabbage is a pale green cabbage that resembles a large Romaine lettuce, while bok choy is Asian cabbage with a sweet-tasting stalk and leaves that resemble spinach. Napa and bok choy are usually best when cooked. They have short storage spans, as they have a fairly high water content.
Purplish-red radicchio and treviso are cousins of head cabbage that you may want to save for special occasions, as they can be fairly expensive. Radicchio is round, has brightly colored striped leaves, and has a bit of a bite to it. (Think ‘radish.’) Treviso is also brightly colored and resembles miniature Romaine lettuce. Both radicchio and treviso can be eaten fresh or cooked. In the United States, we tend to shred them and add them to salads. In Europe, they are generally added to soups or served in either steamed or sautéed vegetable combinations. No matter how they are prepared, they add color and flavor.
Belgian endive is quite delicate in color and does not store for more than three or four days in the refrigerator. It can be quite expensive. If you are having a party-to-impress, indulge in individual Belgian endive leaves arranged on a serving plate, dressed with a very small amount of raisin chutney, orange marmalade or your favorite salad dressing, chopped walnuts, and chopped dried fruit.
Fresh cabbage makes for great wrappers. Use green and Napa cabbage or leafy bok choy as a wrapper for sweet or savory rice, chopped pasta, chopped steamed or grilled vegetables, roasted or steamed potatoes, or cornmeal (like tamales). Wrapped foods can be steamed, baked, microwaved, or roasted in a barbecue pit.
A chef’s tip for getting crisp cabbage leaves to fold—freeze them! When you bring your cabbage home from the market, take off some of the larger leaves, wash and pat them dry, put them into a bag or container, and place them in the freezer. Remove them from the freezer and allow them to thaw. Now, the leaves can be shaped easily.
If you’re not wrapping your food, you can use the whole, large leaves to cover casseroles or baked entrées to hold in the heat and assist in even cooking. For example, save the tough outer leaves from a green cabbage. When your vegetable stew is ready to go into the oven or your vegetable soup is ready to simmer, place the leaves over the stew or soup, cover, and bake or simmer.
We should speak about preserved cabbage—that is, sauerkraut and kimchi. Sauerkraut and kimchi are available refrigerated or canned. Keep some of the canned variety to toss into soups, last-minute casseroles, or steamed veggies or grains, or just to have on the table to spice up lunch or dinner entrées.
If you don’t have time to chop or you don’t need an entire head of cabbage, look for the pre-shredded format available in many stores. Pre-shredded cabbage can have an added bonus of vegetable combinations. We have seen pre-shredded green and/or red cabbage as well as green cabbage-and-carrot mixtures. Some Asian markets offer pre-chopped bags of Napa cabbage, bok choy, or cabbage combos.
Steaming is a fast way to get cabbage on the plate. In addition to green and red cabbage, you can steam Napa cabbage, bok choy, radicchio, or treviso. If you have the time to finely shred these before steaming, they can be added to soups, wraps, vegetable medleys, and cooked grains.
Unique Cabbage Dishes
Colcannon is a versatile Irish dish made with sautéed onions and cabbage mixed into mashed potatoes. The cabbage adds texture and nutrients to the mashed potatoes and can be served as is or shaped into potato cakes, coated with bread crumbs, and baked. The addition of puréed silken tofu or vegan sour cream makes a colcannon croquette, which can be formed into triangles and baked in the oven. This can be quickly prepared with mashed potato mix and pre-shredded cabbage.
If you have the time, plan a New England boiled dinner featuring steamed cabbage (traditionally cut into quarter heads, not chopped or diced), steamed potatoes, steamed onions, and steamed carrots. Serve with smoked tofu or steamed tempeh.