5 Tips for Cooking Cabbage from Recipes Around the World

updated May 1, 2019
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When I think about cabbage, the first things that always come to mind are big batches of shredded slaws, tangy jars of sauerkraut, and thick boiled wedges served with corned beef. But the thing is, when it comes to all the things a humble head of cabbage can do, those dishes only scratch the surface.

While cabbage varieties and cooking techniques can vary, these hardy brassicas are a go-to ingredient in cuisines around the world. Here’s what some of those recipes have taught us.

1. Cabbage Rolls (Eastern European)

Stuffed cabbage rolls, typically filled with ground meat and rice and topped with sauce, are a classic Eastern European specialty. The most important thing to glean from this traditional dish is that softening cabbage makes it more pliable and gives it a ridiculously tender texture that just screams comfort food. And that’s exactly what you can expect, whether you make cabbage rolls on the stovetop or in the slow cooker, or if you try our deconstructed version.

If your go-to way of preparing cabbage is in a crunchy slaw, give the satiny texture of cabbage a try in one of the recipes below. You might find the texture just the thing you’re craving when the urge for something comforting strikes!

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(Image credit: Guy Ambrosino)

2. Braised Cabbage with Bacon (American South)

Just as bacon is a friend to classic Southern cooking, it is also the simple (and delicious) solution to mellow the earthy, funky taste of cabbage. While there are many cultures that embrace cooking cabbage in bacon fat, it is a beloved practice by many Southern cooks. Used in place of oil or butter, not only does bacon fat soften and mellow your cabbage of choice, but it also imparts a punch of salty, savory meatiness.

Try starting your next cabbage-based sauté or soup with bacon fat. It will build in a rich, smoky flavor to the dish and bring out the inherent sweetness of cabbage.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

3. Colcannon (Irish)

If you’ve never considered cabbage comfort food, I guarantee colcannon will change that in a single bite. This traditional Irish dish is an another example of how pairing cabbage with other ingredients can change our perception of it. In this riff on the classic, the cabbage is partnered with other bold flavors like nutty brown butter, earthy mashed potatoes, and bright scallions. It won’t lose its edge, but in the company of other strongly flavored ingredients, cabbage learns to play second or third fiddle.

The next time you want to mellow the flavor of cabbage in a dish — without hiding what makes it so great — pair it with other strongly flavored ingredients. Bacon, browned butter, and pungent onion all can handle the assertive flavor of cabbage without being overwhelmed by its flavor.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

4. Stir-Fry (Asian)

Cabbage — specifically Napa or savoy cabbage — is always a good idea for stir-fries. Both Napa and savoy have thinner leaves than the traditional green and red cabbage, which means Napa and savoy cabbage are quicker-cooking and readily absorb any sauce they’re paired with.

The next time you’re making a clean-out-the-crisper stir-fry, don’t hesitate to add cabbage to the mix. Try cutting leaves into long strands for easy eating. The versatility of this veggie means it can handle everything from a soy-based sauce to a hearty peanut number.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

5. Udon Noodle Soup (Chinese)

Take a page out of the playbook for udon noodle soup, and you’ll see that working an extra helping of leafy greens into any pot of soup couldn’t be easier. This Chinese-inspired soup calls on vibrant green bok choy, or Chinese cabbage. Both full-size and baby bok choy have delicate leaves that can be simmered right in the soup without losing their texture like other greens.

Cabbage and soup are old friends — or maybe old foes if your idea of cabbage soup was shaped by the diet craze of the ’80s. Take a page out of udon soup’s book and go with the delicate flavor of bok choy the next time you want to add something green to your soup. It won’t turn into mush as it simmers away and you house won’t have that tell-tale cabbage soup aroma!