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Food Forum

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Lowly cabbage gets no respect

A visitor stopped over while we were weeding the garden last weekend, chatted for a while and went home with a cabbage.

That’s how it is this time of year. Stop over at a gardener’s house and you are unlikely to get away without a zucchini, a bag of green beans, some lettuce, garlic, beets or carrots. Or a cabbage.
“Thanks!” our visitor said. “What should I do with this?”

There are a lot of choices. There’s coleslaw, of course, or a chopped salad. Cabbage is good sautéed, steamed or cooked as a curry. You can stuff cabbage leaves with rice and ground meat, or use cabbage as a filler in egg rolls. With enough cabbage and enough time, you can make sauerkraut.

I wait until late August or early September, when I have too many enormous cabbages, to make sauerkraut and kimchi, a spicy Korean version of pickled cabbage.

This time of year, we’re picking cabbages small and eating them raw or very lightly cooked.
For a salad, I chop cabbage and add parsley or cilantro, shredded carrots and diced cucumbers, and toss it with oil and lime juice or vinegar. I might add toasted sesame seeds or sliced almonds, if my daughter is away. She does not like nuts in her salads, the silly girl.

Raw cabbage is tough enough to stand up to dressing without wilting, which means you can make a big bowl of a chopped salad and eat it for several days.

Coleslaw holds up the same way, but since I’m not big on mayonnaise, I generally make a German coleslaw, dressed with oil and vinegar, salt and celery seed. Sometimes I use caraway seeds instead.
If you want a little less crunch, lightly steamed cabbage makes a nice side dish. I steam coarsely chopped cabbage for 2-4 minutes in a big frying pan with only about a quarter inch of water in the bottom.

People say cooked cabbage smells and tastes too strong, but that’s because it’s often overcooked. You want to take if off the heat as soon as it looks bright green and has just started to soften.

I generally toss it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper; sometimes I add grated Parmesan cheese.

Bubble and squeak

I also like Parmesan in my bubble and squeak — an English dish of potatoes and cabbage, named for the bubbling water and the squeak you hear as the cabbage cooks. In England, the dish generally includes sausages and whatever leftover vegetables are on hand, all mashed with the potatoes.
I prefer a version my Croatian friend introduced me too, boiled chucks of potatoes with steamed cabbage, tossed with olive oil, Parmesan and herbs.

I cut and boil the potatoes first, and when they are just about done, add chopped cabbage to the water and cover. If you leave it boiling for a few minutes, you’ll hear the squeak, but don’t overcook it. Sometimes I turn off the heat when I add the cabbage and let it steam in the hot potato water before I strain it.

The Brits are right: It’s good with sausages.

Last week, I shredded cabbage, steamed it with some tamari sauce, then used it as a filling for spring rolls. I use Vietnamese rice wrappers because they are gluten free and my husband has Celiac disease. You could use wonton or egg roll wrappers if you don’t have issues with wheat. (Same for the tamari — we use it instead of soy sauce because soy sauce has wheat in it.)

You can buy rice wrappers in the international section of your supermarket, or at an Asian market. They are flat, thin brittle discs made of rice flour.

I soak a disc in warm water in a glass pie plate for about 15 seconds, pushing it under the water until it is softened. Place the softened wrapper on a damp cloth on a cutting board, being careful to spread it out without ripping it.

Put about three tablespoons of the cabbage mixture in a log shape in the center, and top it with shredded meat, shrimp or other vegetables. Then fold in two sides and roll up the wrapper to make your spring roll. You can eat it fresh or fry it.

Secret ingredient

Sometimes it takes some convincing to get people to eat cabbage, and sometimes the easiest thing is not to let them know what they are eating. We often just serve a mixture of steamed vegetables with dinner and let guest eat first and ask later.

“Cabbage? Really?” some say. “But it’s so tender!”

Our biggest cabbage coup came years ago, when we got our two little nephews to eat some. We were taking care of them for a few days and their parents had warned us the boys wouldn’t eat vegetables if their lives depended upon it.

My husband picked, chopped and steamed some cabbage, then told the nephews that since their parents were away, it would be OK for them to eat like pigs.

The boys — they were about 3 and 5 — stuck their faces into their plates and started snarfing down cabbage, giggling the whole time.

Eating like pigs is fun, of course, but the proof that they actually liked it was when they asked for refills.

“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at

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