Do you love to eat with the seasons? If you’re not already including cabbage in your fall meal-planning, you’re missing out on one of the hardiest, most versatile and delicious vegetables we can grow in our climate and soils. The combination of our already-short summers and the unpredictable future of climate change might make squashes and tomatoes a nail-biting gamble, but cabbages can be grown here with relative ease and confidence, making it a great bet for farmers. But what about the eaters? Have you discovered it yet?
Cabbage is a staple ingredient for many cultures, ranking right up there with onions and carrots. Here in Thunder Bay our awesome mix of cultures serves us up cabbage in Eastern Bloc dishes like cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, perogies and Bigos (Polish Hunter Stew) and in Asian foods like egg rolls, spring rolls, wontons, kimchi, Chop Suey and Chow Mein. And yet poor, under-appreciated local cabbage tends to be overlooked by many at the Market.
Cabbage comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes. Most of us are familiar with the round waxy heads of green cabbage that are prevalent at this time of year.
Many of us will be enjoying cabbage rolls this Thanksgiving weekend: large green cabbage leaves wrapped around fillings of beef, tomato and rice, but the other varieties – including fresh, non-storing early ones – don’t get enough press. We aim to fix that! Check out some of the varieties (below) that we’ve found at Market this year, and stay tuned over the next few days as we rustle up some cabbagey recipes for post-Thanksgiving dinners.
Napa Cabbage: Fresh
While Napa will store in the fridge pretty well for a couple of weeks after it’s been harvested, it’s not designed for long-term storage the way waxier varieties are. Sometimes called Chinese cabbage, Napa bears frilly greenish-yellow leaves loosely-packed around a central base. They grow taller than they do wide in a fairly cylindrical shape. Napa is great raw; it makes a great sandwich filler, especially on roast beef. Its flavour is mild and sweet for cabbage, with a bit of pepper to it. It also makes great cole slaw, and adds awesome flavour when shredded into a salad mix. Although Napa grows well in cool conditions, it matures early and tends to be sold earlier in the season. Watch for Napa again at the beginning of next summer, and choose heads that have bright colour and firm stems, avoiding heads with limp stems or leaves.
Savoy Cabbage: Fresh
Like Napa, Savoy varieties are supposed to be eaten within a week or two of harvest. Many consider it to be the best eating cabbage, but because it’s a fresh variety the window on its availability is shorter than regular green cabbage. If you see it at the Market, snap it up and eat it that very night – you won’t be disappointed. The flavor of a savoy is earthy but mild, and smaller heads are perfect for grating or slicing into salads and stir-fries. Many Savoy varieties mature fairly early and you’ll find them on tables earlier than green and red cabbage, but as soon as the last heads come off the fields the countdown begins for the end of their availability. A good head of Savoy will be fairly compact and tight compared to Napa cabbage, but looser than green or red cabbage because of the rumples in its leaves.
Red Cabbage: Storage
Red cabbages used to be the utility cabbage, used mostly for pickling and soups, but selective breeding has introduced new varieties that are as delicious as they are gorgeous. Red cabbage can be stored for months and then shredded for the most stunning coleslaw you’ve ever seen; added to salad, stir-fried, roasted and chopped into soups, among other things. Its flavour – a little darker and earthier than its green cousin – is more robust than fresh cabbages’.
Choose compact, round heads with no more than superficial wilting or damage on the outer leaves. Red cabbage tends to turn a bluish-purple colour when cooked; if you like, you can avoid this by adding a little vinegar or lemon juice as you cook it. Store red cabbages in the fridge for months.
Mini Pointed Cabbage: Fresh
We saw these earlier in the season on Mile Hill Farms’ table, and they may have sold out by now, but they have also been coming in with Belluz Farms lately. All we can say is, if you are a cabbage fan already you need to try these because they’ll blow your mind. If you are not a cabbage fan, you need to try these because they are gateway cabbage; you’ll be much more likely to try others once you’ve tried and liked these..
When we first spotted them we thought they were the cutest things ever, but Renata from Mile Hill told us they were a lot more than that. Apparently one of her teenaged workers started sampling the cull leaves as they prepared these little beauties for Market. Pretty soon there were no more cull leaves to be had: even raw, scratched and bent, they were, according to her staff, better even than lettuce, being wonderfully crispy, juicy, sweet and mild. Try these little guys in a rough slaw with carrots and onions, and try them fast. Store them for just a week or two in the fridge before using; they have a fairly short lifespan.
Green Cabbage: Storage
Everybody recognizes these. These are the ones wrapped around your cabbage rolls and in the old-fashioned cole slaw you enjoyed this summer. At the Market you’ll find the expected cannonball green cabbage (so-called because of their size and weight!) but this fall you’ll also find some enormous green cabbages that look like nothing more than half-inflated beach balls. Stock up now and you’ll be able to store your green cabbage in your cold-room or fridge for most of the winter – or until you eat it all, whichever comes first.
Recipes wanted for sharing! What’s your favourite way to use cabbage?