Cabbage – Kitchen Secrets to Preparing Tasty Cabbage

Cabbage is similar to onions when it comes to aromas. Both plant families have a formidable group of chemical warriors with strong aromas that are released when their cells become damaged. But cabbage goes a step further than onions. Cutting or tearing cabbage leaves creates strong, pungent flavors and some potent bitter notes. This combination of bitter and pungent turns-off most people despite the many positive health benefits.

It’s true the cold, wet and darker growing conditions during Autumn and Winter are helpful in producing milder flavored cabbage. But this is often not enough to convince those who are skeptical of cabbage in the first place. Fortunately, there are plenty of things we can do in the kitchen to further offset the negative impact some may experience from these intense flavors and aromas – even making cabbage highly attractive.

Here are a few tips to try this winter in preparing leaf or head cabbage – I think you will be pleasantly surprised:

Chop and soak: Soaking chopped cabbage in cold water for about 15 minutes will leach out most of the bitter and harsh flavor compounds, while also making the cabbage crisper. This is especially vital for leaf cabbage, but also works with firmer head cabbage varieties.

Massaging leaves: This is an excellent tip for all leaf varieties. Tear washed leaves into large chunks and place in a bowl. Add 1-2 teaspoons of oil and a good pinch of salt. Gently massage the kale with your hands until the leaves turn a darker color and begin to wilt. Leave in the bowl for 15 minutes and enjoy raw or briefly sauté the wilted leaves. The oil helps protect the enzymes in the cells from reacting with air to create the harsh flavors and aromas, while allowing the natural sugars to surface.

Salt is your friend: Salt acts as a natural counter force to bitter tastes. Adding a bit more salt or something salty like capers to bitter-tasting cabbage will dampen the bitter tastes and increase the sensation from the natural sugars. Salting chopped cabbage and keeping everything in an oxygen-free environment like a liquid brine will activate the fermentation process and convert sugars to lactic acid while altering pungency and bitterness – just like sauerkraut or kimchi.

Minimize heat exposure: Exposing cabbage to heat will speed the enzyme activity and flavor generation. The longer the exposure to heat, the stronger the flavors and aromas. Short and quick cooking over high heat will minimize bitter and pungent notes and create pleasing caramelized sugar flavors.

Use the right spices: Digesting cabbage is a main reason many people stay away from eating too much, which is a shame because there is a simple solution. Try using spice seeds like cumin, caraway, fennel and anise. These spices help us to digest cabbage…and they taste great!

Create strong flavor contrasts: Another trick to counter the strong flavors and aromas of cabbage is to create strong counter flavors. Use salty and umami-rich ingredients. Or create sharpness with some hot chili peppers. Or make it sweet and sour. Depending on the type of cabbage you are using, there are plenty of options to work with when you want add more cabbage to your diet.

Don’t throw away the stems: Many people throw out the stems after removing the leaves, but this is a mistake. The stems are rich in flavor and often much sweeter. Chop them up, cook them in a bit of salted water for 1-2 minutes, drain, coat in some extra virgin olive oil and roast in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes – this makes an excellent garnish or snack!

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