Pick cabbages that have tight leaves and a solid heft. Larger cabbages tend to be more mild in flavor than smaller ones. If the outer leaves are wilted, brown, or excessively torn, this could indicate older cabbage or mishandling.
If you're at a farmer's market, ask the farmer about the varieties they offer and whether the farm has had a frost. Cabbages picked after a frost will be sweeter than those picked earlier.
Cabbage Baby Steps:
To prepare a cabbage, peel off and discard the outer layer of leaves - these are usually too wilted and tough to be palatable. If you're making cabbage rolls, simply peel off more layers of leaves, snapping them as close to the bottom stem as possible to keep them intact. To shred the cabbage, cut the cabbage into quarters, cut the stem off of each quarter, and then cut the cabbage cross-wise into shreds.
Cabbage definitely deserves its reputation for bitterness. When cut, enzymes within the cabbage's tissues combine to form bitter tastes and pungent aromas.
If you're planning on using the cabbage raw (as in a coleslaw), try soaking the shredded cabbage in cold water for a half an hour. Much like red onions, this leaches out some of the bitter flavor compounds. It also crisps up the leaves for extra crunch!
Cooking cabbage can be a bit tricky. Boiling, steaming, or stir-frying will render the cabbage more mild, but overcooking will produce highly unpleasant flavors and aromas. The key to cabbage is balancing its flavor with other ingredients in a dish. Salt is also key since it's presence in a dish reduces the perception of bitterness.
Basic Cabbage Recipes:
If you're new to cabbage, start out with a few basic recipes to learn how cabbage works and what other foods it pairs well with. Here's a round-up of recipes from our archives!
Ok, we're game to give cabbage a fair shot. What about you?!