You might be familiar with braised meats -- they're browned and cooked in liquid for a few hours until the meat is tender. When it comes to cabbage, braising is the same idea -- the cabbage is lightly browned in a little fat, then liquid is added and the cabbage continues to cook. However, unlike meat, braising cabbage takes a few minutes instead of hours to prevent strong sulpherous odors and flavors from forming. Some people claim they don't like cabbage, but it's probably because they've had it overcooked. Any variety can be braised.
In the United States, the most common varieties of cabbage are round with waxy, tightly wrapped leaves in either green or red. But you might find other types of green cabbage in your market, including savoy, with its loose head of crinkled leaves, and the pale, mild-tasting napa, also known as bok choy or Chinese cabbage. Cabbage is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, and vitamins C, B6, and K. It is a cruciferous vegetable, or member of the cabbage family, which might help lower your risk of getting cancer when eaten regularly.
A great cabbage dish starts before you even cook it -- when purchasing round heads, look for those that are compact and heavy for their size. The outer leaves should be crisp and deeply colored. You can refrigerate cabbage in a plastic bag in the crisper for up to two weeks, but it's best used within a week of purchase.
Whether you are cooking wedges or shredded cabbage, the preparation starts the same:
- Remove and discard any wilted outer leaves; wash cabbage head.
- On a cutting surface with a chef's knife, first cut the head into fourths, cutting through the core.
- Cut out the tough inner core in each quarter; discard.
- If you are cooking wedges, cut each quarter again to form eight wedges total. To shred cabbage, hold on to one end of the quarter and cut crosswise into shreds that are about 1/4 inch wide, being careful to keep your fingers out of the way. Some people like to cut the shreds crosswise, forming square pieces.
In a large skillet heat a tablespoon of butter or cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add cabbage wedges or shreds; cook until lightly browned, turning wedges or stirring shreds as needed. Reduce the heat to medium, if necessary. Add about 1/2 cup water to the skillet; bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 6 to 8 minutes for wedges; 3 to 5 minutes for shreds or pieces. For extra flavor, stir in some diced apple and/or a sprinkling of caraway seeds to the pan when you add the water.
- Tip: For even more yum factor, first cook a few slices of bacon in the pan. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, reserving about a tablespoon of drippings in the pan. Lightly brown cabbage in the drippings. After cabbage is cooked, crumble the bacon and stir it into the cabbage.
While red and green cabbage can be used interchangeably is most recipes, red cabbage requires an extra step. The compounds that give red cabbage its color, called anthocyanins, are water-soluble and will turn an unappetizing blue color when cooked. To retain the brilliant red color, add a small amount of acid, such as vinegar, along with the cooking water. Figure about 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of raw shredded cabbage.