In conversation with Raf Epstein, ABC Radio Drive, 25 Jul 2017
Alice contributed this choice cabbage counsel:
Seasonality: Just like the rest of their Brassicaceae relations, cabbage is a winter wonder, growing effortlessly despite the bitter chill. You’ll also find wild cabbage growing quite happily along train tracks, in open fields, and as bright yellow blooming weeds in your garden.
What to look for: Cabbage comes in many shapes, colours and sizes, but its most common feature are the luscious layers of leaves. Fear not if you see a couple of bug bites on the outer leaves – what’s good for the bugs to eat is good for us, too! There should be no strong odour from your cabbage (which may suggest it’s begun rotting from the inside), and the bottom stem should be light in colour (the darker it is, the more time it’s had to oxidise off the stem).
Varieties to look out for: Considering cabbages have been around since Neolithic times, there’s been plenty of impetus for cultivation of different varieties. My favourites are the Wombok – fresh, crisp, fine enough to be eaten raw, perfect for kimchi – and the red cabbage – which I love sautéing with plenty of butter and a splash of red wine vinegar or turning into sauerkraut. If you come across a variety that you’ve not seen before, don’t be afraid to search it out online to see how it’s best prepared.
How to store: Whole cabbages are very forgiving in the storage department. Keep in a plastic bag in the crisper bit of your fridge, but try not to fully seal the bag – the gases they emit will make them go off quicker if they can’t escape a little. If you’re slicing off a bit at a time, try to leave as little surface area exposed as possible – and close this back up in your (soon to be endangered) plastic bag.
How to cook: Regardless of your personal provenance, you’ll no doubt have grown up with some form of cabbagey family favourite. The leaves are great for stuffing with rice and mince (or chopped up veggies) and cooking until softened in a tomato-based sauce. Slice leaves up finely into broth for ‘instant’ noodles, or keep the slices thicker and cook in your soup until the cabbage softens (but doesn’t mush!) which should take about 20-25 minutes. Ferment your own kimchi or sauerkraut (recipe below) if you find yourself with a glut, and you’ll have cabbage on tap, or “Tappage” as I like to call it, for months! Slice a white cabbage into quarters, lightly coat with peanut/vegie oil and burn each side in a hot pan, then drizzle with soy sauce or tamari and bake at 180C for about 10 minutes (or until cooked through).
Complementary pairings: Apples (and apple cider vinegar), Bacon, Butter, caraway seeds, Cheese (especially feta, cheddar and goat), Chillies, Cream, Curry Powder, Garlic, Ginger, Juniper berries, Lemon (especially zest), Mustard, Onions, Pepper.
© 2017 Alice Zaslavsky