It’s easy pass by the cabbages at your supermarket as you head over to more exotic produce, but this humble vegetable is full of surprises! Forget about limp boiled cabbage – the real ways to eat it are pickled, fried, as delicious coleslaw or used to enrich a stew.
History of CabbageCabbage is nothing new; it’s one of the oldest known vegetables grown in both the West and the East. The big-headed cabbage that we grow today is relatively new – originally it as a loose-leafed plant that probably looked more like today’s kale, a close relation.
In the ancient Western world, Greeks farmers knew that grape vines did not do well when grown near to cabbage, which meant less wine! The vegetable became a key player in at least two classic tales in Greek mythology: the stories of Lycurgus and Dionysus, and the tale of Diogenes
In the East, it seems that North China may be where Chinese cabbage originated: pots holding cabbage that date back to 4,000 B.C. have been found in Shensi province. It was thought to be a ‘cooling’ food and today it’s still considered suitable to go over rice and to be pickled. You’ve probably heard of Kim Chee, the delicious pickled cabbage that is eaten in Korea?
Cabbage was a winter life-saverAlmost every cold-climate country has a favourite use for cabbage, and this is no accident. Think of German sauerkraut, French choucroute, Irish colcannon or Dutch koolsla (coleslaw) - all designed use a hardy vegetable which grew in cold weather and was a valuable source of vitamins in the dark winter months. It also filled the family, so throwing chopped cabbage into the stew-pot made the meal go further. On long sea voyages, pickled cabbage was a valuable source of nutrition, but there are records of it also being used as poultices to soothe and heal wounds.
Modern cabbageYou can get a wide variety of cabbage in South Africa: red or white cabbage, pak choi or dark green Cavolo Nero are some of the choices. While a good coleslaw is delicious in summer, don’t get stuck in a one-recipe rut with cabbage! Instead, try combining it with bacon and onion, or experiment with preserved cabbage like sauerkraut or Kim Chee.
But why is cabbage good for us?Cabbage packs a rich vitamin C punch – not to mention the iron, calcium, potassium and fibre it carries! That characteristic smell of cabbage comes from its sulphur content which helps your body to resist bacteria and protects your cells.
There are studies being run to check whether certain substances in cabbage may help to get rid of cancer-causing compounds, but the results are still awaited. In the meantime, we’ll carry on enjoying cabbage for its flavor and great nutrients that keep us healthy.
Buying and storing cabbage
Don’t be tempted to buy ready-shredded cabbage as once it has been cut, the vegetable starts to lose some of its nutrients. Rather choose whole cabbages with firm heads which you can store in the fridge for approximately 2 weeks. Use a plastic bag with a few holes in it or a paper bag, and only cut the cabbage when you are ready to make your dish. Get creative!
Cabbage teams very well with
· Onion or shallots
· Red wine
· Herbs (sage, dill, thyme or fennel)
· Vinegar-based dressings
· Sour cream
· Spices (caraway seeds)
Look up some new recipes and give them a try – cabbage will surprise you!
Making sure that cabbages were the first plants in their garden meant good luck for newly-weds.
The cabbage family is a huge one – cabbage belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family which includes, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard and kohlrabi!