Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cabbage is the Real Superfood

Green cabbage after a quick story fry in my wok.

I've written before about my love for cabbage, but recently as I was sautéing cabbage for our main meal I realized that it deserves its own post.

There are plenty of popular superfood greens out there: kale, spinach, and chard come to mind as the big three. Romaine lettuce and arugula get some media attention. But poor cabbage? Barely a mention.

Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, and for decades now we've been told how important it is to eat from this group of vegetables. Heck, I remember George Bush Sr. going on record as not liking broccoli back when research about cruciferous vegetables and colorectal cancer was grabbing headlines.

(Kale is a cruciferous vegetable as well, which is one reason it is the darling of the superfood world right now.)

I do like kale, spinach, and chard, although spinach doesn't like me as it is high in oxalates and I get oxalate kidney stones.

But my main issue with these greens is that they cook down small. I can fill a 13 quart stock pot with kale leaves and end up with under 1 quart (by volume) of cooked greens. Boo hiss. Spinach is actually the worst in terms of how small it cooks down. Spinach, once it has cooked down, makes me feel like I got cheated at the grocery store. I end up wondering Is that really all there is? and realize that if it had been in a little container already cooked I would have passed.

Also, my family doesn't like kale, spinach, or chard raw. Papa and I like the occasional massaged kale salad, but not enough for me to do the work, especially when the boys won't touch it. The boys also don't like how raw spinach and chard feel in their mouths.

And, oh, the cost! Papa really does likes cooked dark leafy greens, so once a month I will buy a 1.5# bag of organic kale at Costco for $5. This, my friends, is a good price, but it is still very expensive. Kale, spinach, and chard are not cheap vegetables at the grocery store, and now that they are diet darlings the prices have only gotten worse. (I have had success with them in the garden, however, so I think that growing these foods is worthwhile and that they can add a lot of nutrition to a healthy diet.)

Cabbage, however, does not cook down small, does taste great raw, and is cheap cheap cheap.

Most of the time I quickly stir fry cabbage in my wok, and it doesn't even shrink down by half. Take that, spinach!

Cabbage makes an excellent salad. You can go fancy and make a cole slaw dressing for it, or you can do what I do most of the time and dress it lightly with extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. One large cabbage makes enough salad to feed a crowd, making it an excellent picnic or potluck dish! For my own family of four I use only 1/4 of a large cabbage to make salad.

I regularly buy cabbage for 49¢ per pound. From one large cabbage I have the vegetable for 2 - 3 meals.

Cabbage keeps, too. After two weeks in the fridge it is still good, so I like to have it on hand to stretch out the grocery shopping trips. Just today I stir-fried half a cabbage and served it with rice and beans. The produce bins are nearly empty, but there is my friend cabbage, waiting to save the day.

I love cabbage in soups! It gets soft and almost tastes like noodles to me. Or rather, it feels like noodles; I don't think it tastes like much of anything once it has been cooked in a soup.

If you haven't tried thinly shredded cabbage as a topping for tacos I encourage you to do so!  We eat lettuce almost daily, so lettuce on tacos doesn't excite us. Cabbage, on the other hand, adds a crisp cool touch to the tacos.

My absolute favorite way to eat cabbage is sautéed and served with potatoes, whether they are baked, roasted, or mashed. Cabbage and mashed potatoes mixed together is a traditional dish called colcannon and it perhaps one of the culinary wonders of Europe.

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