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Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
The different varieties of cabbage vary in size, colour, texture and taste. Here are some of the more popular varieties of cabbage:
Green cabbage is the most widely available and popular variety in Canada. It's also one of the largest; one head yields about 8 cups of shredded cabbage. Green cabbage can vary in colour from light, pale green to dark green and has a very mild flavour. It works well in soups, stews and salads.
Red or purple cabbage is the most striking variety and is distinguishable by its deep crimson colour. Red cabbage can vary in size, from small to quite large. Its flavour is also quite mild and very similar to green cabbage. It's a great addition to soups, stews and salads but be forewarned - its natural colour pigments will turn other foods purple!
Bok choy, also known as Chinese cabbage or Chinese chard, has crunchy white stems and green spinach-like leaves and is popular in Asian dishes. Bok choy has a mild, slightly peppery flavour. Very small heads of bok choy are called baby bok choy and are favoured for their tender stalks and leaves. Bok choy is a great addition to salads and stir-fries.
Napa cabbage has an oblong shape and pale or dark green leaves. It's also popular in many Asian dishes and can be used as a milder and more delicate alternative to green cabbage. It is often used raw in salads and slaws.
Savoy cabbage is similar to green cabbage in appearance but has crinkled leaves and can vary in colour from dark green to light green. It has a mild flavour.
When purchasing fresh cabbage, look for heads that are compact, firm and heavy for their size. Leaves should be blemish-free and slightly glossy. Avoid cabbage that has brown spots around the edge of the leaves.
Keeping cabbage cold retains its freshness and vitamin C content. Store cabbage in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Heartier varieties of cabbage, such as green and red cabbage, will keep for 2 weeks or longer. More delicate varieties, such as bok choy, will keep for 5 to 7 days.
If storing a partial head of cabbage, be sure to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and use it within 2 to 3 days for maximum freshness.
To help preserve its vitamin C content, don't cut or wash cabbage until right before you plan to cook or eat it.
To prepare whole heads of cabbage remove the outer coarse leaves, and cut the cabbage into large sections. Even though the outer leaves protect the inside leaves from dirt and sand, it's still a good idea to rinse all parts of the cabbage under cool, running water.
For bok choy, cut off the bottom stem and gently wash leaves under running water.
Depending on how it will be used, cabbage can be chopped, sliced, grated or shredded.
Cutting: Cut cabbage into wedges; keep part of the core intact to help hold the leaves together. If the cabbage is to be cut into smaller pieces, quarter it then remove the core by cutting out a wedge-shaped section from the base of each quarter.
Slicing/Shredding: Take a quarter wedge and place it on a cutting board. (Don't try to slice the whole cabbage at once!) Slice carefully through the wedge vertically. You can have wide ribbons or fine shreds or something in between depending on how closely you make your cuts. Or if you're not handy with a knife, pull out the food processor and shred it using the grating disk.
There are many ways to prepare cabbage. Here are some of the most popular ways to eat this cruciferous vegetable:
Braising: Put the cabbage and just enough liquid to cover it in a large skillet. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer. Try different liquids for braising such as low sodium chicken stock, apple juice, apple cider or wine. Add some onion, shallots or a pinch of sea salt to the braising liquid for extra flavor.
Steaming: Place quartered, sliced or shredded cabbage in a vegetable steamer over boiling water, or in a pan with about 1/2-inch boiling water. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Steam large wedges for 10 to 15 minutes; shredded cabbage for 5 to 10 minutes.
Stir-frying: Stir-fry sliced or shredded cabbage on its own or as part of a mixed-vegetable dish. Cook quickly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Cabbage can also be sautéed in a saucepan using wine, stock or juice instead of oil.
If cabbage isn’t a mainstay on your menu during the cold, winter months, it should be! Packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamin C, cabbage is one of the most nutritious vegetables around. It’s also one of the most affordable. With an endless variety of shapes, sizes, tastes and textures, there are plenty of tasty ways to add this cruciferous vegetable to your diet. Read on, because this month we’re hailing the all mighty cabbage!
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