I have been a cabbage fan for a long, long time. What’s not to like? It’s cheap, it’s plentiful, it last forever, it’s there on the winter when the variety of fresh vegetables is at a nadar, and it is completely and totally versatile. And now here’s a sentence that might come as a surprise: Cabbage is kind of hot.
It’s short sentence, and while it may not make the world shift on its axis, it’s interesting that cabbage, that taken-for-granted vegetable, that sturdy dense produce, that food of many countries’ history (and poor people’s diets) has been slowly becoming more appreciated. The long time Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables, cabbage is finally getting the respect its due.
A Super Short History of Cabbage
It’s ridiculous to talk about cabbage’s current popularity without digging in a bit about from whence it cameth. Cabbage was most likely domesticated in Europe over 3000 years ago. It made its appearance on the tables of ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, but it has figured more prominently in more recent centuries.
Cabbage has been a part of most of the world’s cooking history. Most famously, in Ireland cabbage was one of the only sources of sustenance in a potato famine-ravaged country in the mid 19th century. And yes, one of the strongest cabbage associations is with the classic Irish dish Corned Beef and Cabbage, not to mention Colcannon.
Cabbage Around the World
Sauteed with bean curd: China. Cooked with potatoes and other vegetables in Bubble and Squeak: England. Surkal, a hot and sour cabbage dish from Norway. Copious amounts of fermented and pickled cabbage dishes (including Kimchi in Korea, and sauerkraut in Poland, Germany, Alsace other Middle European countries and regions). Stuffed cabbage rolls in just about every cuisine you can imagine: called golabki in Poland, holishkes in Jewish cooking, sarma in Croatia, ロールキャベツ in Japan. And let’s not forget coleslaw in the U.S.A.
Why Cabbage is So Great
That is a ridiculously truncated and exclusionary history of cabbage, but the point is: throughout history cabbage was valued for its plenteousness, its cheapness, its long shelf life, its ability to be preserved for an even longer shelf life. It can be cooked in pretty much any way a vegetable can be cooked: sautéed, steamed, brained, roasted, stewed, and made into soups, not to mention used raw and preserved in a variety of ways.
Cabbage is On the Rise
Robert Schueller, the “Produce Guru” at Melissa’s Produce, a specialty produce company out of Los Angeles, has had his finger on the pulse of all produce trends for decades. He definitely identifies chefs and restaurants as the drivers behind the cabbage movement. He sees it used in everything from a topping for tacos (common in Mexico), to as a base or nest for various menu items, such as marinated fish dishes. Schueller says that chefs like how it maintains a crisper texture than other greens on other warm preparations.
“We have seen a rise in Napa Cabbage, too, which is used in Asian stir fries, fermentation and pickling, all of which are gaining in popularity. The most interesting thing is that the rise of Napa is not just in Asian groceries and restaurants,” Schueller says.
Chefs Love Cabbage
So, how is this vegetable, which has historically been looked down upon by the tastemakers with means, gaining so much popularity?
Paul Kahan, award winning Executive Chef for One Off Hospitality, is a self-professed cabbage freak, and has been for years. He thinks that because people have thought of cabbage is a food with sustenance as its core merit, it hasn’t been given its due. Until now. “It’s all about how it is prepared, how it’s elevated,” Chef Kahan says.
Kahan has been serving cabbage at his upscale Chicago restaurants for years. At Publican they char wedges in their wood burning hearth and then finish it in a pan with butter and shallots. He remembers being inspired by a cabbage dish made by another chef in New Orleans, Alon Shaya: “It was the first time I ever saw a chunk of cabbage served at a restaurant.”
And that’s how kitchen trends start – chefs get inspired, borrowing from other restaurants and other cultures, food publications take their cues from the chef community, and suddenly cabbage recipes start to proliferate.
And, yes, those other historical merits of cabbage? That it’s cheap, super nutritious, and goes a long way? Still true, but Kahan doesn’t want us to think of it as humble. “It’s just delicious,” he says.”
Roasted Cabbage Wedges
This recipe is super simple, but it rocked my world. It’s was inspired by a recipe in Paul Kahan’s recent cookbook Cooking for Good Times. Paul used caraway and poppy seeds in his version, and broils it. I chose mustard seeds instead, and roasted it at a very high temp so that the whole thing softened, and the edges got crispy and caramelized.
You just cut the cabbage into thick wedges, and brush with some olive oil.
Give a sprinkle of salt and mustard seeds (or go Paul’s way and use a combo of caraway and poppy seeds, or go your own way and choose another spice!)
Into the hot oven for about 15 minutes. Out . when they are just starting to become tender and some of the outer edges have that appealing caramelized brown color. I would love to try these sometime in a wood burning oven.
Finally a quick smear of softened butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to finish them off. These make an amazing side side for all kinds of main courses, but the truth is that I ate this whole wedged head of cabbage in two sittings. With no main dish in sight. I have eaten more embarrassing things in two sittings.
Serve Charred Cabbage with:
- Bourbon Brown Sugar Pork Loin
- Roasted Chicken Thighs
- Mediterranean Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Vegetables
- Roast Beef with Mustard Garlic Crust and Horseradish Sauce
- Fall-Apart Roasted Pork Shoulder with Rosemary Mustard and Garlic
Roasted Cabbage Wedges
- 1 head green cabbage
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 475°F. Slice the cabbage in half through the stem. Cut the cabbage into 1-inch thick wedges, removing most of the thick core, but leaving enough that the wedges hold together.
- Brush the cabbage wedges lightly with the olive oil and sprinkle them on both sides with the mustard seeds, salt and pepper. Place the cabbage wedges in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (lined with foil or parchment if you like), and dot the cabbage with little bits of the softened butter. Cook until the wedges are charred on the edges and beginning to soften, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Serve hot or warm.
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