Cabbage belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables that also includes kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. The early form of wild cabbage more closely resembled kale or collards, composed of leaves that did not form a head. Then somewhere along the line, we cultivated the full-bodied cabbage head that we know and love today.
The phytochemicals found in cabbage are potent antioxidants and are known to significantly decrease the risk of many cancers. The ancient Greeks and Roman civilizations were right on (as usual) when they revered cabbage as a cure-all for a number of health problems.
During the Middle Ages, cultivation of cabbage spread across Eastern and Northern Europe and it became a major crop, largely due to its potential for high harvest yields, cool temperature growing conditions, and ease of storage. The vegetable has become an integral component of many of these food cultures. Cabbage soups are popular in a number of European countries. Cabbage is also an essential ingredient in a "boiled dinner” and “bubble and squeak,” two dishes of English origin that also include potatoes and meat, which are boiled or fried, respectively. (There is definitely a common theme of the food of England…)
The large, sturdy leaves of cabbage also make it a fine vessel for stuffing—cabbage rolls are a common Eastern European and Middle Eastern delicacy. In addition, cabbage fares well with fermentation---one of my absolute favorite ways to eat it. German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi are very flavorful products of fermentation that make great condiments or side dishes.
Since my opinion is that cabbage is underused and somewhat underappreciated in most American cooking today, I want to introduce (or reintroduce) you to an easy, healthy, and delicious German tradition: warm red cabbage salad. The dish was adapted from a recipe from Austin’s Granite Café and is perfect for these upcoming cool, autumn months.
A slice of warm hearty beer bread is the perfect accompaniment to this German-inspired meal and I provide you with a simple recipe for you to try. And of course, for any meat-lovers out there, you can’t go wrong with a bratwurst plopped right on top.
Warm Red Cabbage Salad
For cabbage salad
1 teaspoon toasted caraway seeds
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium red cabbage, halved and thinly sliced
2 tart apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons honey
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
For mustard dressing
2 tablespoons Dijon or stoneground mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Boston lettuce leaves or other greens
Crumbled goat or feta cheese
Shredded or sliced carrots
Warm beer bread
Soak caraway seeds in apple cider vinegar for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook onions in oil over medium heat until slightly browned. Add cabbage and apples; cook for 5 minutes. Lower heat. Add vinegar mixture, honey and bay leaf and cook for 30 minutes, partially covered. In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients. When cabbage is done cooking, season with salt and pepper and toss with mustard dressing. Serve over Boston lettuce (if desired), with optional toppings and beer bread.
Whole Wheat Beer Bread
Makes 1 loaf.
2 ¾ cups white whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
12 ounces beer
1 tablespoon honey
Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Slowly mix in beer and honey, stir until just combined. Spread batter in a lightly greased loaf pan and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.