Know Your Cabbages! Green, Red, Savoy, Napa, and More

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

We have to admit that unless a recipe calls for something specific, we don’t often venture beyond our regular head of green cabbage. But all those other frilly and deeply-colored leaves are mighty intriguing. We’d like to know more! What cabbages do you like to cook with?

Green Cabbage – The king of cabbages and our old friend! The wide fan-like leaves are pale green in color and with a slightly rubbery texture when raw. Pick heads that are tight and feel heavy for their size. The outer few layers are usually wilted and should be discarded before preparing.

Sliced thinly, green cabbage can be eaten raw or it can go into stir-fries, soups, and braises. The whole leaves can also be used to make cabbage rolls. Raw leaves are somewhat peppery in flavor, but the cabbage gets sweeter as it cooks.

Red Cabbage – Similar to green cabbage, but with dark reddish-purple leaves. We think the flavor is a little deeper and earthier. Pick heads that are tight and heavy for their size, and slice it thinly for any preparation. We love it’s color in coleslaw and leafy green salad mixes.

Napa Cabbage – Also called Chinese cabbage, this oblong-shaped cabbage has thick, crisp stems and frilly yellow-green leaves. We think its flavor is sweeter and softer than green cabbage, and we really love eating it raw in salads and using it in the filling for dumplings. Avoid napa cabbages with limp stems or wilted leaves.

Savoy Cabbage – This is the prettiest cabbage in the bunch, we think! They’re shaped like green cabbages, but the leaves are deep green and deeply crinkled. Their flavor is mild and earhty, and the leaves are tender even when raw. Heads should be compact and tight, but will have a little more give to them because of the wrinkled leaves. We really like savoy cabbage sliced thinly in soups and stir-fries.

Bok Choy – Bok choy stems are white and watery-crisp, while the leaves are deep green and very tender. The flavor of bok choy reminds us of baby spinach or swiss chard, and we love it in stir-fries, brothy soups, and steamed mixed vegetable dishes.

Choy Sum – We’re including this one just because we’ve seen it a lot at our regular grocery store. It’s labeled “Chinese Cabbage” but it’s definitely different from the Napa/Chinese Cabbage mentioned above, and after a bit of research, we think it’s actually choy sum. It looks similar to bok choy, but longer and slimmer. The leaves are tender enough to eat in a salad while the stems are crisp and watery. We’ve been liking it in chinese-influenced salads with oranges and Five-Spiced vinaigrette. It also works great in quick noodle soups and stir-fries.

Have a favorite cabbage recipe?