When it comes to maintaining a glistening reputation, cabbage has had its ups and downs throughout the centuries. In ancient times it was on a pedestal and revered by the Greeks for its many medicinal properties. On a visit to ancient Egypt, the Greeks, thinking their cabbage was superior, even had seeds brought in from Rhodes. The European aristocracy of the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, on the other hand, turned up their noses at the mere mention of cabbage or coleworts as it was known in medieval times.
Cato, an ancient Roman statesman, circa 200 BCE, advised one to eat plenty of raw cabbage seasoned with vinegar before a banquet at which one plans to "drink deep." Even the ancient Egyptians advised starting the meal with raw cabbage, including cabbage seeds, to keep one sober. It seemed that the standard treatment of the day for a nasty hangover was more cabbage.
During the first millennium A.D. Europeans were devouring stewed cabbage during the cold winter months because it was one of the few staples available when the ground produced little else.
The lowly cabbage played a central role in the Russian peasants' diet that differed considerably from that of the tsar's court. Chefs from Germany, Austria, Netherlands, and Sweden introduced European foods of the upper classes, foods that did not include cabbage. The peasants, however, sustained themselves from the 14th to the 19th centuries on soup made from pickled cabbage, along with rye bread, buckwheat groats, and kvas, a mildly fermented beverage Russians still enjoy today.
From ancient times in China to the present day, cabbage leaves have been dried and stored for winter. Rehydrated in water, they came to life again and offer nourishment when added to soups or stir-fried. The Chinese have also prepared pickled cabbage often served as an accompaniment to their meals.
Nomadic Turks introduced pickled cabbage into Poland and Hungary during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the early 1700's cabbage, pork, sausage, lentils and rye bread were the mainstay of Germany's hearty meals. An English chef of that period described the Northern European diet as "substantial and wholesome plenty."
On the Scandinavian table from the eighteenth century dating back to the time of the Vikings, cabbage played an important role. Because of the harsh winters they prepared their summer harvests with a focus on foods that could be smoked, dried, or salted. Cabbage along with beets, onions, apples, berries and nuts were some of the staples they stored for winter.
In the Middle Ages, vegetables, particularly leafy vegetables, were frowned upon and thought to be responsible for ill health. During this time cabbage, beans, onions, and garlic were the most common vegetables and each of them was attributed with the ability to produce "wind," acceptable in the company of commoners but certainly not in aristocratic circles. Cabbage, however, withstood the disparagement and retained its status as a reliable staple of the poor.
Cabbage in the form of sauerkraut was a familiar essential at the medieval table. Some historians believe that the idea of pickled cabbage was brought to Europe by the Tartars and developed into sauerkraut by the Celts who were cultivating the headed variety of cabbage around 200 BCE.
Sixteenth century writer Richard Burton certainly gave cabbage a very definitive thumbs down when he wrote, "Amongst herbs to be eaten I find gourds, cucumbers, coleworts, melons disallowed, but especially cabbage. It causeth trouble-some dreams and sends up black vapours to the brain . . ."
Despite the many sixteenth and seventeenth century European explorers who brought back unique vegetables from the New World, vegetables in general were not highly regarded in Europe until the eighteenth century. In fact they were even thought to cause plague. The sale of plums, black cherries and cucumbers was actually forbidden during a seventeenth century plague epidemic.
In 1984 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations listed cabbage as one of the top twenty vegetables considered an important food source sustaining world population. Many countries of the world have incorporated cabbage as part of their national cuisine.
Stuffed cabbage is a favorite throughout Eastern Europe and Turkey as well, while in China and Thailand sliced bok choi or napa cabbage are familiar additions to stir fries and soups. The Ethiopians love their spicy stewed collard greens; the Japanese serve pickled cabbage and cucumbers called tsukemonoas an appetizer; and Koreans get daily benefits from cabbage in the form of kim chi.Germany's national favorite is the long-cooking stew of sweet and sour red cabbage while the French and Belgians prefer their savoy cabbage. In Scandinavia coleslaw is a smorgasbord must. Finely shredded green cabbage is a classic addition to a South Indian upama;the Irish love their colcannan,and the standard of Jewish dishes is corned beef and cabbage.
Today, cabbage, though not revered as broccoli, is most popularly eaten as coleslaw. In this form it's readily available as a side dish at fast food restaurants or served along with sandwiches in cafes and bistros. In case you've ever wondered how coleslaw got its name, it's quite possible it may have been derived from the Dutch whose word for cabbage is kool, and salad is sla.
The Cabbage family, brassica oleracea,includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, collards, and the Oriental leaf vegetables such as pak choior pe-tsai,familiar to us as napa cabbage, that are actually more closely related to the turnip family.
Wild cabbage, native of the Mediterranean, Southwestern Europe, and Southern England, thrived along the ocean where it received plenty of moisture. Most likely it was varieties of the wild cabbage family, possibly one of the kales, that the ancient Greeks and Romans held in such high regard. This uncultivated species had little resemblance to the cabbage we purchase in our present day supermarkets. Rather than the familiar round head that distinguishes our familiar cabbage, the wild cabbage had stalks with few leaves and flowers. Though it is difficult to discover exactly when cabbage became a cultivated crop, botanists estimate from a few hundred to a few thousand years BCE.
Researchers have learned that foods in the cabbage family inhibit the growth of breast, stomach, and colon cancer due to phytochemicals called indoles. These indoles tend to burn up the female hormone, estrogen. Indoles also tend to ward off cell changes that lead to colon cancer. Some of the phytochemicals seem to produce anticancer enzymes. A University of Utah School of Medicine study on 600 men revealed that those who ate the most cruciferous vegetables had a much lower risk of colon cancer. On the side of caution, however, consuming excessive amounts of cabbage may contribute to thyroid problems, possibly goiter.
A well-known remedy for healing peptic ulcers is drinking cabbage juice. A medical study at Stanford University's School of Medicine gave thirteen ulcer patients five doses a day of cabbage juice. All were healed within seven to ten days with the vitamin U contained in the cabbage juice.
Growing Heading cabbage varieties, such as green, white, red, and savoy, are cultivated in the cooler regions of northern Europe. These heading varieties are slower growing and do well in temperate climates. Leafy cabbages such as pak choi and other Oriental varieties that are fast growing thrive best in warmer countries.
The ideal soil for growing cabbage has a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. It's best not to plant cabbage in the same location year after year. Wait three years before planting cabbages in their past location to prevent unwanted nematods. Seeds can be started indoors and hardened to the outdoors gradually as the ground warms up. Plant seedlings about one foot apart. To sow seeds directly into the ground, place them 1/4" deep. Cabbages mature in about three months. To prevent cutworms, place paper cups with the bottoms removed around each plant.
The earliest spring cabbages have a hearty green color, tend to be more pointed in shape, and do not have the dense, solid heads that appear in late spring. Pale green, very round, solid head cabbages are available in the late spring season.
Depending on variety, cabbages can weigh between two and seven pounds, with a diameter of four to eight inches. Although there are approximately 400 varieties of cabbage varying in color, shape, and size, all are similar in nutritional components as well as structural properties.
Three distinguishing cabbage families are grouped as follows:
Red cabbage is higher in fiber than green, with 4 ounces of it boiled and drained offering 2.7 grams. It's higher in vitamin C, offering 25.8 milligrams for 4 ounces cooked. Red cabbage is also higher in calcium, iron, and potassium than its green cousin.
Savoy and napa cabbage can boast they contain 20% of the RDA for vitamin A, while red and green cabbages contain considerably less. Bok choy contains the most vitamin A, supplying 60% of the RDA, although it is equal to red and green cabbage in other nutrients.
Pickling is an excellent way to preserve the vitamin C in cabbage. In fact, Captain Cook attributed his crew's good health to a daily ration of sauerkraut.
Preparing Red Cabbage
Cole Slaw has a million variations and is an easy way to get your indoles. Simply shred any variety of cabbages or combine more than one variety for appealing color. Add shredded carrots, raisins, apples, nuts, seeds, and herbs, and dress with oil and vinegar seasoned with a little sea salt.
Include the core of the cabbage. Many people toss it out, but it has healthful nutrients and deserves a place in a healthy diet.
Chop some beautiful salad savoy into your green salad. Enjoy the color, flavor, and textures.
Add chopped cabbage to the blender along with other favorite vegetables and some water or juiced vegetables to make a raw soup.
Add cabbage to your juicer to get those indoles in liquid form.
Another trick to avoiding the cabbage odor during cooking is to add an English walnut, shell and all, to the cooking water. A stalk of celery added to the cooking water may also help to reduce or eliminate that cabbage smell.
Slice, shred, or chop the cabbage. Cook in a covered saucepan in a small amount of lightly salted liquid until tender, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Red cabbage is a little tougher than the green and takes a bit longer to cook. It's especially tasty in the form of sweet and sour red cabbage, taking about 1 1/2 to 2 hours simmered over low heat.
Save any cooking water and add it to soups or vegetable stock.
If you are steaming chopped or shredded cabbage, use only about 1/4 " of water in the bottom of the pan, and cook 3 about minutes.
Since cabbage rates so high on the nutritional scale, you'll want to eat it often. To avoid the monotony of eating the same old cabbage dish over and over, it helps to have a variety of ways to serve it. We hope you'll enjoy this tasty recipe, and add it to your list of favorites.
BRAZIL NUT AND RAISIN CABBAGE ROLLS
WITH SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE
Here's a "wholesome and plenty" main dish to serve a small gathering. It's a delightful meal any time of the year, but particularly welcome as a winter or spring meal for its robust heartiness. Serve with steamed vegetables and a large tossed salad.
We consider this dish rather special and well worth the preparation involved. It's an ideal make-ahead recipe, and any leftovers retain their flavor quite well.
3/4 C. (177 ml) short grain brown rice
4 C. water (960 ml)
1/2 t. salt
1 14-oz. (397 g) package of Lightlife Gimme Lean* (beef or sausage flavor)
1/2 C. (118 ml) black raisins, plumped in hot water to cover
1/2 C. (118 ml) golden raisins, plumped in hot water to cover
1/2 t. salt
Pepper to taste
Sweet and Sour Sauce
1/2 C. (118 ml) black raisins
* Sausage style soy and gluten meat substitute manufactured by Lightlife Foods