Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fried, stuffed, baked: Cabbage is a fall favorite

Posted on Oct. 15, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

One local vegetable that benefited from the late rains and the cooler temperatures is cabbage.

Fall did not come gently — it just really happened in a fast way. For those of us who really cook, this time of year is a wonderful time for so many reasons, and many of them have to do with tasty locally grown foods. Fall is the time of the year to return to the kitchen and prepare real food.

Like many of you, we cook at our home and we cook according to the seasons. So this time of the year I think about local foods: beautiful heads of red and green cabbage, and the unlimited ways to prepare them, and then my taste buds get to needing cabbage.

I know the list is endless when it comes to ways to prepare cabbage. Some of the foods I think of when I see that dark green head of cabbage are sweet and sour cabbage by itself or with some onions and sausage. Another one of my favorites is cabbage rolls with a meat mixture in them and then baked in a tomato sauce. Then there is fried cabbage with some Italian salad dressing drizzled on it, and then there are all of the ways to make coleslaw. A fast way to prepare cabbage is to just take a wedge of cabbage, drizzle Italian salad dressing on it, and microwave for three or four minutes.

When I see that red or purple cabbage head I think of my Belgian and German heritage and my grandmother, Mary Van den Broecke. She cooked sweet and sour cabbage that had raisins in it. There are many nationalities that make this wonderful cabbage. It is so good with roasted meat.

I have shared before the idea of using a cabbage head with the center hollowed-out as the dip container for when you are making a vegetable basket. I found this works best if you cut off the bottom of the head so the head will sit level and then decide how deep you want the head to remain. Now cut off the top — this determines the width of the opening. Once you have cut off the top, take a sharp paring knife and cut along the edge to hollow out the inside. Don’t remove too much along the side; you want the head to keep its shape. I have found this easiest if you make several small cuts.

There are a couple of bonuses to using the cabbage head for dip container. One, it looks really nice — you can just mix all the vegetables together around the head and put them in a flat basket. The real bonus comes when you are done with the vegetables: You can cut up the head and fry it with some onions. It is very tasty. A red cabbage is a real color bonus when you are making a cabbage head container.

The brassica family is quite large and includes such common vegetables as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, horseradish, kale, mustard, radish, rutabaga and turnip. Cabbage is among the oldest vegetables cultivated by man and grows well in almost any climate. Surprisingly, cabbage is appreciated in almost all of the world’s cuisines.

The members of the brassica family that go by the name cabbage are many and varied. Most are characterized by tightly packed leaves and round heads, although some varieties are loosely packed, elongated or flattened. Most varieties are white to light green, but there are also the red or purple varieties. Though cabbage is available year-round, I think it is the best late summer and through the fall.

The most common cabbage in American markets is the large round-headed variety with medium green outer leaves that go to pale green. The leaves overlap tightly around a central core. When selecting cabbage, select a head that is heavy for its size, without drying around the core. When preparing, discard any wilted or damaged leaves and remove the core with a sharp paring knife.

The whole head may be shredded and eaten raw as a salad or coleslaw. It may be steamed, braised, added to soups or preserved as sauerkraut. The whole head may be blanched, then stuffed between the leaves and braised, or hollowed, stuffed and baked. My favorite: Blanching the leaves to soften them, then stuffing and baking. Whatever way you prepare it, I just know that now is the time to enjoy fresh locally grown cabbage.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is county extension director and extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Reach her at 533-0554 or lienhart@purdue.edu.