What are cabbages?
The cabbage, or brassica, family is huge, and includes everything from the familiar red, white or green varieties with tightly packed leaves, to cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts as well as pak choi, popular in Asian cookery.
The round, crinkle-leafed Savoy cabbage and the pale, lozenge-shaped Chinese leaf are considered to be two of the best to cook with. The flavour of cabbage varies from type to type, ranging from savoury to gently sweet, but one thing they all have in common is a rank smell if overcooked, so brief cooking is key.
When are cabbages in season?
Different varieties of cabbage are available all year round.
Choose the best cabbages
All cabbages should look bright, with crisp leaves. Avoid those that feel puffy, whose leaves have holes (an insect might have burrowed its way in) or whose outer leaves have been stripped away, which some retailers do to cabbages that start to loose their freshness. Varieties with tightly packed leaves should feel heavy.
How to prepare cabbages
For loose-leaved varieties, remove old or damaged outer leaves, cut the leaves free of the core and slice out any tough central stalks. Rinse if necessary, then chop or slice. For tightly-packaged cabbages, strip the outer leaves in the same way, wash, then slice into quarters, cut out the hard central core on each one, then chop or shred. When cooking red cabbage, add a little vinegar to the water to stop the colour running. Boils in 4-6 mins; steams in 4-8 mins; stir fries in 2-4 mins.
How to store cabbages
Loose leaved cabbages will keep in a cool, dark place for several days. Tight leaved varieties will last even longer.
How to cook cabbages
Stir fry Savoy cabbage with garlic, ginger and chilli, plus a dash of soy sauce; slice green cabbage with carrots, toasted nuts, raisins and dress with olive oil and lemon juice for a salad; slice white cabbage and add to chopped ripe mango, red onion and walnut pieces, dressed with vinaigrette.
Discover more cabbage recipes.
Alternatives to cabbages
Try Brussels sprouts.