Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Aren't You More Popular?

I can't predict which actors will become stars - I can't even agree with the popular consensus about which celebrities are good-looking - and I am similarly stumped about why certain fruits or vegetables miss the popularity boat.

Here's a good case in point: why isn't purple cabbage more popular?

Why aren't you more popular?

Purple cabbage is beautiful. It's very low in calories yet almost unbelievably nutritious - a great or great source of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, folate, manganese, thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. It even has some alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a desirable essential fatty acid. The cabbage's beauty and great nutritional profile are actually wedded together in the cabbage's concentration of deeply pigmented anthocyanins - the source of its lovely color -  which can help fight cancer, heart disease, macular degeneration and other diseases. 

Purple cabbage is widely available. Here are some heads of purple cabbage on sale this week - in February! - at the Union Square Farmers Market.

Looking gorgeous in February

But you know I wouldn't bother writing about purple cabbage if it didn't taste good.

I love having a purple cabbage on hand. When I buy one, I put it in a plastic bag, knot up the bag's end, and put the cabbage in the refrigerator. I have found that the cabbage will stay fresh for 2 weeks or more, just about the longest of any item of produce I have ever purchased. Another plus in purple cabbage's favor.

What are its down sides? I have given thought to this matter, and I've come up with a list of two items:

1) Most people think of the cabbage that isn't green as red cabbage, not purple. Purple cabbage has no recognition, no Q Score, so of course it's not popular.
2) When people think of cabbage, they think of smelly boiled cabbage, an overcooked vegetable and maybe some old gym socks boiled in a tureen. 

My responses:
1) Okay, okay, I'll call it red cabbage from now on!
2) So don't boil it!

The easiest way to avoid boiling red cabbage is by using it in the most famous of all cabbage salads - cole slaw. Just substitute the red for the green cabbage or use a mixture of cabbages. You could also pickle cabbage. Here's a good picked cabbage recipe.

(I should hasten to say that I have nothing against green cabbage. I just think red cabbage tastes better and is more appealing, even rousing, on the plate.)

I like to cook my red cabbage. I like to sautee/braise it.

Braised red cabbage with apple 

I begin by cutting the cabbage into large chunks, just short of shredding it. I cut out and discard the core. If the cabbage head has tough outer leaves, I generally discard them, since they are the gritty protectors of the cabbage head.

Getting ready, getting shreddy

I spray my large skillet with olive oil spray, turn on the heat and dump in the cabbage. Once the cabbage is sizzling, I add just enough water to prevent it from scorching and season it with some salt. I keep a watch on the pot, stirring and adding water as needed to prevent the scorching. 

A lovely sight to behold

I frequently add two ingredients to the mix: apple slices and ginger paste. A little background on each: my son likes his apples cut up but doesn't always eat them. These uneaten slices go back into the fridge to be used for this recipe. Another source of apples is the occasional bad apple in the barrel, the mealy, the not-rotten but nevertheless flavorless, the cook it or compost it. Think of this as the ""When bad produce happens to good people" solution.

I first became acquainted with ginger paste via The Vah Chef, an inspiring Indian chef and cooking instructor. He used ginger paste and ginger-garlic paste all the time - even when he used fresh ginger and fresh garlic in his recipes. Both are available in Indian groceries and worth checking out. Keep them in your fridge and never worry about grating a withered knob of ginger again. The paste has a great texture for mixing and adds a polished, finished note to many vegetable dishes. Really, rush out now and buy some! A Tanzanian friend told me that ginger paste was one of her mother's first purchases when she arrived to their new home in Chicago, and it has had a permanent parking spot in her refrigerator since then.

I like to dissolve about a tablespoon of ginger paste in water, give it a good stir, and then mix it in to my cabbage. 
The  Vah Chef says "Vah!" about ginger paste
Other possible additions: red wine; red wine vinegar; a handful of caraway seeds; all of the above. Add these ingredients early in the cooking. I sometimes add a splash of balsamic at the end of cooking if I've skipped the ginger paste. Total cooking time = at least 15 minutes (just wilted, still some crunch) or more. Make sure you don't burn the cabbage while keeping the liquid levels very minimal.

Add a splash

Braised red cabbage has a voluptuous, hearty flavor that belies its low calories and simple preparation. I've been gratified that friends have enjoyed it too. "I can't believe how good this is," one friend said recently. "And believe me, I would not have made this dish for myself in a million years. Now I'm going to buy some cabbage next time I go shopping."

Extra nice when the weather's frightful and most fresh vegetable options are as cruddy as the weather

Who's unpopular now?

Portrait of a cabbage by my father-in-law


  1. THANK YOU for calling it purple cabbage! I've never understood why it should be called 'red'. I call it purple myself, and everyone looks at me strange. Don't know why...sure looks purple to me.

    And we drive on parkways and park on driveways.

    I've always been impressed, too, with its longevity in the fridge.

  2. Purple cabbage is in my opinion the best vegetable ever, and you're right, it doesn't get its due. Some vague prejudice against cabbage as horse food or for poor folks?

  3. I Just (as of yesterday) discovered that I LOVE cabbage) This stemmed from my new-found love of Brussels spouts (as of this past Canadian Thanks Giving), so I went to the store abnd bought half a head of green cabbage. I bought the green because I heard it was milder in flavor, but is this true? I actually prefer my cabbage and B. sprouts boiled for a long time - I find it takes the bitterness out. I am going to explore the purple and nappa cabbages next.