By Heidi Lewis
“Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well.” You may be inspired to recite dialogue from Hamlet as you hold in your hand a head of cabbage. Perhaps you hold it at arm’s length—even bent on one knee—channeling Laurence Olivier. But do be sure you say it correctly: “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio—a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.” This famous line from Hamlet is one of the top 10 frequently misquoted lines of Shakespeare.
Cabbage is also oft misinterpreted. Many people think it needs to be cooked to death, when indeed it does well with a light hand and can also be used raw. Cabbage is so versatile in the kitchen, hold a head in your hands and contemplate: simmered, sautéed, rolled, stuffed, or shredded? It has fed much of Europe and Asia for centuries, so no wonder there are so many ways to prepare it. All cabbages are members of the Cruciferae family of vegetables, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, collards, and the Asian leaf vegetables such as bok choy.
Cabbage is a fast-growing fall and winter crop, is nutrient rich, and has many medicinal properties to boot. Researchers have learned that foods in the cabbage family inhibit the growth of certain cancers due to phytochemicals called indoles. Other research has shown that cabbage juice is effective for curing peptic ulcers. With its overlapping layers, cabbage may hold even more curative secrets.
Preparation: Overcooking cabbage releases sulfuric odors and reduces its nutritional value. Celery, caraway seeds, apples, and pears are fine compliments in cabbage recipes, such as slaws and salads. To use the leaves for stuffing, hit the spine of each leaf with the flat edge of a heavy knife and slip the leaf in salted, simmering water. Cook for a few minutes till tender. Dry leaves on a towel and use them to roll up rice or leftovers.
Storage: Store cabbage in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge. Cabbage is a good keeper and should last up to 10 days. Slice cabbage just before using, as it loses nutritional value when exposed to air.