How About Some Cabbage?

Photo courtesy of green finger and morguefile.com
Photo courtesy of green finger and morguefile.com

I was perusing a community garden the other day and noticed some good-looking cabbages. Cabbage is kind of unique in that it has a bland flavor when raw and a pronounced flavor when cooked.

When a pot of cabbage is simmering on the stove, you don’t have to ask what’s for dinner. Your nose knows.

According to an ancient Greek saying, “Cabbage twice cooked is death.” A member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, cabbage contains sulfur compounds that form hydrogen sulfide gas during cooking. Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical responsible for the scent of rotten eggs.

Some chefs have suggested dropping a whole walnut into the cooking water to help decrease the typical cabbage scent. Leaving the pot partially uncovered also helps dispel the fragrance of cooking vegetables.

Scent aside, you have several reasons to enjoy more cruciferous vegetables. They’re economical and nutritious, and you have an array of choices. The cruciferous vegetable family tree includes numerous types of cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, watercress and kohlrabi. They all look a little different but have similar nutritional properties. For example, Savoy cabbage has curly leaves. Napa, or Chinese cabbage, is lighter in color and more elongated, and has a milder flavor than other varieties.

Chemicals in cabbage and its relatives are linked to health benefits. Cabbage is a good source of vitamin C, and it is low in calories at about 15 calories per half cup of raw cabbage. Isothiocyanates, sulfur-containing compounds common in the cruciferous family, are responsible for at least some of the health benefits. In a study of more than 18,000 Chinese males ranging in age from 45 to 64, eating more cruciferous vegetables was associated with a lower risk of lung cancer.

Cruciferous vegetables are linked with reducing the risk of prostate cancer, too. Researchers studied 600 men with prostate cancer. Men who ate three servings of cruciferous vegetables weekly were half as likely to get prostate cancer. Tomatoes, green vegetables and cooked dry beans also play a protective role against prostate cancer. In addition, cruciferous vegetables are linked with reducing the risk of stomach cancer.

Add more cruciferous vegetables to your menu. When selecting cabbage, look for solid heads that are heavy in relation to size. Avoid cabbage with yellowish or brownish leaves. Red cabbage should be a deep purple-red.

When properly stored, cabbage can last several weeks in the refrigerator. To store cabbage, remove the outside leaves and cut out the core. Wash well under running water, place in a plastic bag or wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the vegetable crisper.

A versatile ingredient, cabbage goes beyond its traditional roles in sauerkraut and coleslaw. Shred cabbage and add to tossed salads, soups or stir-fry. Stuff cabbage leaves with cooked rice and meat, and simmer in spaghetti sauce. Cooking cabbage too long, however, can leave you with an olive green side dish. The color reaction occurs when natural acids in cabbage react with chlorophyll, the green pigment in cabbage. Cook cabbage quickly in as little water as possible.

Here’s a colorful and tasty recipe that makes use of red cabbage.

Red Cabbage With Apples

2 medium tart apples, sliced
3 Tbsp. margarine
1 medium head red cabbage, coarsely shredded
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar

In a large pan, cook and stir apples in margarine over medium heat for five minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until cabbage is tender, about 40 minutes. Serve red cabbage with apples as a side dish.

Make six servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 2 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber and 90 milligrams sodium.