Heady stuff

March 08, 2006|By ROHINA PHADNIS | ROHINA PHADNIS,SUN REPORTER

In the sea of emerald broccoli and ruby tomatoes, cabbage is often overlooked as the bland vegetable. Yet under its securely woven leaves lies a hearty, versatile green.

The green, or Dutch White, variety is known for its dark-green leaves on the outside and pale-green ones on the inside, according to the University of Illinois Extension's Web site. It is best to use this cabbage a few days after buying it if serving raw in recipes such as coleslaw, says Drusilla Banks, an educator with the extension program.

Unlike its smoother counterpart, savoy cabbage has rippled leaves. Savoys last only about four days in the refrigerator. Buy them when you know you can use them immediately, according to the extension program.

Red cabbage is a smaller and thicker variety with a peppery taste. It is best cooked with vinegar and prepared with stainless-steel equipment to preserve the unique color, the UIE site says. Napa or Chinese cabbage has a mild flavor and looks like romaine lettuce, according to the Leafy Greens Council, which notes that brussels sprouts are also part of the cabbage family.

To select a good green cabbage, look for heavy heads with tightly wound leaves. Check for any marks or cracks that may indicate insects or decay. Eric Huckleberry, executive chef at Ryan's Daughter in Belvedere Square, says two to three weeks is the longest you should keep cabbage.

Cabbage often gets a bad rap because of the foul odor it can let off as it cooks - but it's really overcooking that causes the odor, the extension program site says.

To curb the smell, cook until it is tender and use stainless-steel utensils. Try cutting it into thin strips and stir-frying. The hot oil will coat the strips and keep the smell as well as flavor sealed in, according to The Penguin Companion to Food.

Since ancient Greek and Roman times, cabbage has been heralded for its medicinal qualities. Cabbage is on the list of vegetables that may prevent cancer, along with broccoli sprouts, ginkgo biloba and garlic, says the American Association for Cancer Research.

Cabbage is linked to St. Patrick's Day tradition. It long has been a part of Irish cooking, but its ties to corned beef can be traced to more recent times. The two were married in the early 1900s in the Lower East Side of New York City, according to the History Channel's Web site. Irish immigrants found corned beef to be a frugal substitute for their traditional Irish bacon.

If you're looking for an alternative to corned beef, serve cabbage with seafood, especially flounder ormonkfish, says chef Joey Dempsey, managing director of Baltimore International College's Ireland campus 50 miles west of Dublin. Celery seed, mustard seed, nutmeg, tarragon and caraway seed complement cabbage in many dishes, he says.

rohina.phadnis @baltsun.com

Tips

Local chefs offered several tips for buying and storing cabbage:

Buying

Avoid green and red cabbages that have brown spots, says Eric Huckleberry, executive chef at Ryan's Daughter.

The cabbage should be firm, with no loose leaves. Don't buy savoy or napa cabbages with dead leaves.

Storing

Cut the cabbage, cover it and store it in a refrigerator set from 30 degrees to 40 degrees, says Donald Spence, executive chef at An Poitin Stil in Timonium.

Cabbage has gone bad when it starts to smell like a rotten egg.

Irish Colcannon (Winter Vegetable Casserole)

Serves 6 to 8

1 pound potatoes, sliced

2 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced

2 medium leeks

1 cup milk

1 pound cabbage or kale

1/2 teaspoon mace

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

Cook the potatoes and parsnips in water until tender. While these are cooking, chop leeks (greens as well as whites) and simmer in the milk until soft.

Cook the cabbage or kale. Chop and keep warm. Drain the potatoes and parsnips, season with mace, garlic, salt and pepper, and beat well. Add the cooked leeks and milk (be careful not to break down the leeks too much).

Finally, blend in the cabbage or kale and butter. The texture should be that of a smooth, buttery potato with well-distributed pieces of leek and cabbage. Garnish with parsley.

Recipezaar.com

Per serving (based on 8 servings): 154 calories, 4 grams protein, 4 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 357 milligrams sodium

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