General Description: Cabbage (Brassica oleracea, Capitata group) is a common vegetable that can be white, red, or green. Cabbage was the earliest cultivated vegetable in the Brassica family and is the ancestor of its numerous relations, such as cauliflower and broccoli. Loose-leafed cabbage was valued by ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Around 2,000 years ago the first cabbages appeared in Northern Europe. The word “cabbage” is a derivation of the French caboche, or “head.”

In the U.S., the most common cabbage has compact heads of waxy, tightly wrapped leaves. The infamous smell of cooking cabbage comes from various sulfur compounds. Coleslaw, from the Dutch koolsla, meaning “cool cabbage,” is a salad of shredded cabbage that is ubiquitous at picnics. The German specialty sauerkraut (sour cabbage) is salted, fermented cabbage.

Red cabbage was developed in the 16th century and is especially popular in Germany and Eastern Europe. If exposed to even slightly alkaline conditions, such as hard water, it turns slate blue. To avoid this, traditional red cabbage recipes often include acid fruit, vinegar, or wine.

Savoy cabbage has a loose, full head of soft, crinkled leaves varying from dark to pale green. It was developed in Italy and probably descended from old Roman types. Mellow-flavored Savoy cabbage is considered culinarily superior, but is less readily available than common cabbage.

Portugal cabbage (also called Braganza, Galician, or sea kale cabbage; couve tronchuda in Portugal) has no head but large wide-spreading leaves and thick, white, fleshy ribs.

Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea, Gemmifera group) are miniature head buds of cabbage that grow in a spiral up around a thick central stem. Brussels sprouts became popular in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and a little later in North America.

Season: Red, green, and white cabbages are available year-round. Savoy cabbage is predominantly sold in the fall. Peak season for Brussels sprouts is November and December.

Purchase: Choose cabbage with firmly packed, crisp-looking, fresh leaves; the head should feel heavy for its size. In green and Savoy cabbage, opt for heads with dark leaves (as the cabbage ages, these leaves wilt and are removed, revealing light leaves). The leaves should be fairly thick and pliably crisp, not limp, and there should be no sign of browning. Choose Brussels sprouts with good green color that are firm, with compact leaves and clean ends.

Avoid: Pass up cabbage with yellowed leaves, a strong smell, or a woody, split core. Avoid Savoy cabbage that has thin, wilted leaves or a cracked head. Avoid puffy, wilted, or yellow Brussels sprouts.

Storage: Cabbage may be refrigerated, tightly wrapped in plastic, for about a week.

Preparation: # Trim off and discard the stem end.

  1. Cut the core out in a cone shape and discard if desired. (It has a stronger taste.)
  2. Slice or cut cabbage into thin wedges before washing. Discard any withered or stringy parts.
  3. Rinse in cool water and drain well.
  4. For mildest flavor and tenderness, cut out and discard the thickest ribs from the outer leaves.

Serving Suggestions: Stuff cabbage leaves with ground beef or pork, rice, raisins, and season with vinegar or sauerkraut. Make coleslaw with mayonnaise, vinaigrette, or other dressing. Braise red cabbage with apples, onion, and cider vinegar or with apricots and balsamic vinegar. Make minestrone with shredded Savoy cabbage and fresh shelled beans. Cook Brussels sprouts with chestnuts.

Flavor Affinities: Green and white cabbage: bacon, butter, caraway, carrots, game birds (such as pheasant or goose), juniper berry, onions, potatoes, sausage.
Red cabbage: apples, red wine, vinegar.
Savoy cabbage: garlic, olive oil, polenta, potatoes, sweet onions, white beans. Brussels sprouts: bacon, butter, chestnuts, chicken stock, shallots.

from Quirk Books: