The dense, leafy heads don’t get the respect they deserve. That’s probably because you don’t know how to cook them.
If all you know of cabbage is a soggy slaw, we are sorry.
While shards of crunchy cabbage, coated in a silky mayonnaise-and-vinegar dressing is a uniquely wonderful experience (when it’s made correctly and not weighted down with unnecessary ingredients), that’s the tip of the iceberg in the world of everything delicious cabbage can be.
It seems the collective culinary world may be turning its eye to cabbage in coming weeks, as searches for corned beef and cabbage are sure to spike. Sure, that’s a wonderful way to try a traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish and experience a uniquely expressive plate of food.
But if you want to really experience all this versatile vegetable has to offer, you’ll need to know how to cook it—and, perhaps more importantly, how not to.
Good: Grilling Cabbage
Start here if your cabbage experiences have thus far been lackluster. When cabbage is grilled, the leaves pick up an intense crunch and bite, not to mention a mind-blowing smokiness that’s reminiscent of a great burger or grilled steak. It’s not meaty, sure, but it satisfies that serious craving for smoke.
You can make grilled cabbage the main dish with just a drizzle of Romesco or perhaps a creamy buttermilk-herb dressing. You can also chop it into wedges and use it as a side “salad” for another main.
Try This: Grilled Cabbage Salad
Bad: Not Salting Cabbage Before Making Slaw
Cabbage slaw, whether a side dish or a topping for hamburger, sandwiches, or tacos, will last longer if you can get moisture out of it before, well, adding moisture back to it. Here’s why that’s important.
If you leave all of the natural moisture in the cabbage shreds, it will leach out into the dressing, turning it watery and weak. If you salt the cabbage first, letting it sit to draw out water from the cabbage, you can squeeze it away so the shards will stay crisp and crunchy longer.
How to Do This: Sprinkle salt on cabbage slaw and toss to coat. Let the cabbage sit in a colander or sieve in a sink or over a bowl for at least an hour. Squeeze the cabbage to drain excess water, then combine with dressing.
Good: Roasting Cabbage
Like grilling, roasting is a wonderful way to keep cabbage crisp and juicy while also adding some great flavor. Caramelizing cabbage wedges or “steaks” under a hot broiler draws out the Brassica’s natural sugars; they turn sweet and smoky in the intense heat. You can roast the cabbage plain or use a simple glaze to lightly enhance the natural vegetal tang.
Bad: Boiling Cabbage
Before you bring out the pitchforks, let us clarify that we’re not saying all boiled cabbage is bad. We’re saying it’s not the greatest representation of cabbage, and it’s also not the only one you should know.
Boiled cabbage loses a bit of its sharp bite (but not the smell), turning it sweet while also making it slurpable and silky. If you like this softer state of cabbage but don’t like the full boiling process, try steaming cabbage wedges instead. They’ll still soften up beautifully and keep that great tang.
Good: Sautéing Cabbage
If you have a head of cabbage and want to cook it but don’t have the time to dedicate to grilling or roasting, give it a quick sauté. Cabbage will keep a bit of its bite, but the fast hit of heat will make it crisp-tender and almost twirlable.
Slice the cabbage thin, toss it with salt and pepper to break up the individual pieces. Then sauté it in a bit of oil or butter, adding whatever spices or additional ingredients match your intended final dish.
Try This: Sautéed Cabbage and Apples
Bad: Using Only One Kind of Cabbage
There are hundreds of cabbage types, but your grocery store carries three if you’re lucky—red, green, and Napa. Each is quite unique, delivering a different flavor and texture. If you think they’re interchangeable, try to boil red cabbage; it might turn blue. But red cabbage, which is a bit more tender than green, is ideal for raw applications like slaw or slightly sautéed sides.
Experiment with the options your grocery store carries or your local farmers grow. Ask for advice from those same farmers about the best way to prepare them. Not only might you get great recipe ideas, you may be exposed to cabbage uses you hadn’t yet considered. Cabbage-shell tacos, anyone?