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Is cabbage the new cauliflower (which was the new Brussels sprouts)?

These big green globes are grand if you know how to cook them.

Roasted Cabbage with Crispy CrumbsSheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

A woman I know who makes her husband whatever he tells her in the afternoon he wants to eat for dinner, told me once, “Sometimes Sydney feels like a little cabbage.” So now, when I serve cabbage, I quote the wife. Mostly just to send up the idea of a household run like a restaurant.

The humble cabbage may be usurping the place on the plate that cauliflower and Brussels sprouts recently occupied. Perhaps it’s because we’re nearing the end of winter, and weary of all the other vegetables, and it’s too soon to reach for asparagus. Cooked the right way, cabbage can more than rise to the occasion.


Recently in Paris, where homey, cuisine bourgeoise-style cooking is thriving, I saw cabbage all over bistro menus: roasted, sauteed, and always cooked until its natural sweetness was the forward taste. Stir shredded cabbage in a skillet long enough — and by long I mean 40 minutes — and those thin strands break down completely and taste like a different vegetable. It actually has a creamy quality.

Cabbage is so far down on everyone’s favorite foods list that it practically hits rock bottom. If you make a hierarchy of foods around the world, with proteins at the top, then account for dairy and grains and all kinds of greens and vegetables, as the line-up meanders downward, the last items in place are things like cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, and other plain Jane vegetables that people once grew for themselves. These constituted the food of the poor for centuries, which undoubtedly accounts for their proletarian reputation.

If you’re showing your house to prospective buyers, cabbage is not the vegetable you want to cook the night before. Bake something with cinnamon for that occasion. Yes, there is a disagreeable cabbage smell when you’re cooking it, which comes from sulfur in the vegetable (you also get this funky whiff from broccoli). Years ago on a trip through Eastern Europe, I noticed that every dining room in the big hotels, where unreformed Soviet-era cooking was on the menu, had the scent of cooked cabbage in the air.


If you’re boiling the vegetable, add lemon juice, vinegar, or bay leaves to the water. Some old-fashioned cooks boil cabbage with a pinch of baking soda.

Better to forgo boiling altogether. Sauteing is an easier method, maybe with a little ham in the pan. Roasting transforms cabbage. Brush the wedges with olive oil, and send them into a hot oven until the ends turn crisp and the inside leaves are tender.

Cabbage is, of course, the basis for kimchi, the spicy, fermented Korean side dish that is such an important element in the cuisine. There’s a scene in the Netflix K-drama “Crash Landing on You” where women in a North Korean village get together to salt giant heads of cabbage with ocean water to prepare kimchi (and gossip).

Shredded cabbage can also be stir-fried in peanut oil, Chinese-style, with ginger, soy sauce, and rice wine. To make sauerkraut, so essential to the table from the Slav lands across to Germany, toss the shreds with salt and any seasonings you like, such as caraway or mustard seed, and let them sit while the cabbage releases its liquid. Then pack the cabbage into a big Mason jar or a crock to ferment for several weeks, an ancient process that suddenly became popular during the pandemic.


The most American of presentations is coleslaw, which is also having its moment, as cooks combine at least two varieties in the bowl (green, perhaps, along with some of the sweeter red cabbage), and toss them with a vinegary dressing or something mayo-based and creamy.

In our region, cabbage is part of the important, old-timey New England Boiled Dinner, which also features a big piece of corned beef, potatoes, and beets. The famous second-day dish is Red Flannel Hash, which takes its name from the vivid color of cooked beets.

A close relative is corned beef and cabbage, traditional St. Patrick’s Day fare that you’ll see all over restaurant menus this month. Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American variation on a bacon and cabbage dish, invented after the mid-19th century Irish migration. But in Ireland, residents might spend the holiday feasting on lamb or bacon.

Part of the brassica family, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale, cabbage comes in hundreds of varieties. The common large heads, labeled “green cabbage” in markets, also go by the name “cannonball cabbage.” It has hard leaves and a peppery taste. Red cabbage is certainly prettier and doesn’t have as much bite as green. Napa cabbage, with more pliable leaves, is sweeter and quite good stir-fried. Bok choy is a small variety of individual cabbage heads that should be halved and cooked in hot peanut oil with fresh ginger and a little water until it becomes tender.


Don’t shortcut the time it takes to roast cabbage. You’ll find recipes that tell you to roast them for half an hour. Toss that recipe! You need well over an hour in a very hot oven. Let the wedges brown nicely, then cover them with foil so the inner leaves cook. Give them a final blast, first with a generous brush of mustardy vinaigrette, then with a coating of Parmesan crumbs. The cabbage is so tender, with such a delicious sweetness, you won’t recognize it.

One of the lowliest vegetables in the marketplace may just be ready for its close-up.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.