When a cabbage costs only 99 cents, it is easy to go overboard and buy more than one at a time.
I am one of those shoppers who goes cabbage giddy in the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, when the price is more than right for bright-looking heads that are tightly wrapped with verdant leaves sans black spots or holes.
Without giving a thought as to how they are going to be used, I would load two to three in my shopping bag. The what-do-I-do-with-the-cabbages moment usually won’t hit me until I try to fit them in my refrigerator’s produce drawer as the heads do take a chunk of space.
Invariably, I would be forced to use one immediately. And it’s just as well because keeping in step with St. Patrick’s Day, I would whip up a colcannon. I would save a second one to be used later in the month as cabbages are quite hardy and keep for more than a week in the refrigerator. The third one would be shredded and stashed away in a plastic bag in the freezer for down the road.
And when I say shredded, I mean hand-shredded. Call me a masochist, but I find cutting cabbage to be a welcome mind relaxer. There is something about separating a cored cabbage into stacks of leaves, flattening them slightly and then slicing each stack into thin shreds that gives me immense satisfaction, even if it is time consuming. If you think those few steps are agonizing, be lazy and just use the food processor.
There is no denying that cabbage comes with a baggage — it is a stinker when cooked. A funky odor fills the kitchen from the sulfur compounds that are released, especially when the crucifer is overcooked.
The indifference toward the vegetable doesn’t just stop with the smell. It also is unfairly overlooked and understated because it is readily available year-round.
So how about treating the cabbage for what it really is? Weight watchers should embrace it for being low in calories and rich in vitamins and folate. And cooks should appreciate it for being versatile, a team player and kitchen workhorse.
The crucifer works fantastically well when used raw in slaws, is pleasingly sour when fermented into sauerkraut or kimchi, and meltingly soft when boiled with other vegetables in soups and braised with meats or simply with cream and shallots.
Its underlying natural sweetness comes out when sauteed with bacon and caraway seeds or fennel and garlic. The key here, however, is not to overcook it. Remember, it is being sauteed and not braised. The sweetness also is undeniable when it is baked and transformed into an au gratin.