Those words by Walter Page are just an example of the many attacks that have been lobbed at both English cooking and the humble cabbage over time. National prejudice aside, the cabbage, so oft mistreated, is not deserving of such digs.
Firstly, Brassicas, the family the cabbage belongs to is one of the most important and varied culinary plant families. The list of veg from turnips to broccoli, from cabbage to kale, from canola/rape seed oil to mustard are all Brassicas. A good portion of many world cuisines would collapse without them, well at least suffer dearly. What would Korea do without Kimchi, what national identity could replace it?
Secondly, All of the Brassicas from broccoli to collards and yes even cabbage are quite good (but can be made bad, sometimes noxiously bad) and good for you. Nutritionist Johnny Bowden, says cabbage is “the most important [vegetable] in the world from the point of view of nutritional benefits and cancer-fighting ability” in this NY Times article. It is also fairly cheap which is a big plus to those of us use to the pauper’s way of life. Cheap however, may be cabbage’s other sin. While foodies shuffle through piles of veg looking for evermore exotic and expensive specimens for their dinner parties. The poor cabbage is too often overlooked.
It may be a little hard to wax poetic about such humble and ubiquitous veg, but dinner would not be the same with cabbage. Cabbage and similar Brassicas make it to my table with amazing frequency but still probably nowhere near as frequent as they make their appearance on East Asian tables. So here is a couple ways to do up your cabbage (I’m sure I’ll add more in the future).
Cabbage cooked in milk
This English dish is succulent, tender, and has just a hint of sweetness. Mildly spiced it makes a great accompaniment to pork.
- 1 medium cabbage (~2 lb)
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 oz butter, divided
- salt and fresh ground pepper
- Coarsely chop the cabbage.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add cabbage and blanch for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Drain cabbage, empty the water from the pan. Add 1 oz. butter and the milk to the pan. Return the cabbage to the pan, season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until the cabbage is tender, but not too soft (about 15 minutes).
- Add the remaining butter and serve.
搶白菜 Stir fried cabbage with sichuan pepper
This is a great way to bring a little heat to your vegetable dish.
- 1 1/2 lb. cabbage, chopped into roughly 1 inch pieces
- 4 dried chili peppers chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 t sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 t minced ginger
- 1/2 T rice wine
- 1/2 T rice vinegar
- 1/2 T sugar
- 1/2 T sesame oil
- 2 t soy sauce
- 1/4 t salt
- 1/2 t cornstarch
- Mix “1, Liquids” in a bowl and set aside.
- Heat wok on high then add 3 T of oil. Add the cabbage and quickly stir fry for a few seconds. Add 3 T of water, stir fry cabbage until the cabbage is soft but still crunchy. Do not overcook. Remove the cabbage from the wok and drain the water.
- Reheat the wok, making sure it is dry, then add 2 T of oil. Add chopped chili peppers, sichuan peppercorns, and ginger. Stir fry until fragrant then remove the spices, leaving oil in the wok. Discard the spices.*
- Return the cabbage to the wok along with “1, Liquids” mix. Stir to make sure the cabbage is evenly coated. Remove and serve.
Note: *I often add a couple of the chili peppers back to the cabbage at the end, either that or I “accidentally” leave a few in the wok. I think it makes for good presentation, well that and I like to eat them.
Remember, you don’t get any desert until you eat all your vegetables!