Think cabbage is a little too ordinary? Chef Jenn Louis, the queen of greens, is here to convince you that with the right techniques and accompaniments, the humble cabbage is nothing short of magnificent.
Chef Jenn Louis grew up in the 1970s with lump, overboiled cabbage and Brussels sprouts. "People's education on ingredients and how to cook wasn't as developed then," she says. "We learned after that roasting, frying, searing, sautéing, and eating cabbage raw is really delicious."
Cabbage was one of the first subjects Louis tackled for her latest cookbook, The Book of Greens, "because it's easy, inexpensive, and so versatile." She always keeps a head or two in her fridge (wrapped in plastic, they stay fresh for up to two weeks). Cabbage is also brimming with vitamin C, fiber, and isothiocyanates—compounds that research has linked with a lower risk of cancer.
Once considered bland and boring, cabbage is now undeniably cool—a key player in the fermentation trend (kraut and kimchi) and the center-of-the-plate, knife-and-fork vegetable movements (cabbage "steaks" and wedges). The potential is endless and so delicious, Louis says. "Finding new ways to prepare cabbage is what makes it so fun."
Check out our half a dozen creative ways to make a crucifer with character:
These slow-roasted wedges will make a cabbage convert out of anyone, and are a beautiful starting course sub for the usual appetizer salad. Leave the core intact so the wedges hold their shape in the skillet and in the oven. Caraway has an earthy, anise-like flavor, almost like a combination of cumin and fennel seed. Use a mortar and pestle or small heavy skillet to crush the caraway seeds, or pulse in a spice grinder.
The cabbage rolls you’re likely most familiar with are a relic of Eastern European cuisine: filled with ground beef and rice and simmered for hours in tomato sauce. Louis has found cabbage rolls across several cuisines, however, and adopts a Far East approach here. Savoy cabbage leaves have distinct curly edges and a bumpy, web-like texture that make them perfect for stretching over the pork filling. If you can’t find broken rice, you can pulse long-grain rice in a food processor until finely chopped, or simply use long-grain rice instead.
Agrodolce is Italian for a sweet-and-sour combo, usually achieved with sugar and vinegar. Slightly wilted red cabbage takes on both flavors beautifully and turns a magenta hue that will perk up any pot roast or pork loin. Plump dried cherries will match the texture of the cabbage and be the tart, hidden gems in the dish. A little butter rounds out the acidity and helps bind everything together.
This savory, Japanese-style pancake is traditionally loaded with cabbage. Louis’ version uses quickly brined cabbage and a thin batter for maximum crispiness. Togarashi (also called Japanese Seven Spice) is available at Asian markets and some supermarkets. The mixture includes dried ground chile, ginger, orange rind, seaweed, and sesame seeds for a savory, spicy, briny blend. You can also make one larger pancake in a 10-inch skillet, increasing the cook time to 10 to 15 minutes and cutting into wedges before serving.
Now that we know better than to boil Brussels sprouts into submission, the possibilities are endless. Try shredding fresh sprouts into fall salads or roasting until crisp and golden. The next frontier, according to Louis, is a zingy, crunchy giardiniera—perfect for a charcuterie board, as a dressing for baked fish, or to amp up your next grilled cheese sandwich. Mild Champagne vinegar enhances the vegetable mixture with brightness rather than burying it with acidity (you can also substitute white or rice wine vinegar). Keep in a sealed container in your fridge for three days for the best texture.
Fresh cabbage is all about crunch; the more texture, the better. Napa cabbage is an excellent choice for salads because it can absorb bold vinaigrettes without losing its crisp bite. Louis combines the cabbage with more crunch from sweet carrots, pungent red onion, and peppery daikon radish. Red miso paste is a soybean paste that ferments longer than yellow or white miso, giving it a deep umami flavor. Stir until the paste has completely dissolved into the vinegar mixture before tossing with the salad.