You can’t throw a rock lately without hitting a restaurant that hasn’t jazz-handed its menu with a massaged kale salad or shaved Brussels sprouts with squeezed lemon and pecorino cheese. That shit is everywhere. Not that kale and Brussels sprouts don’t taste great. They do, but they’re as overused as a Kardashian reference.
The truth is there are plenty of other vegetables in culinary mothballs that also deserve a place at the table. Case in point: The woeful cabbage.
When you think of cooking with cabbage, you probably picture a Polish grandmother stuffing a fistful of ground pork into what looks like a veiny wet napkin, all the while muttering backhanded praise via proverb: “Biada bez dzieci, biada i z dziećmi.” Or you imagine it chopped up in the bland, mayonnaise-slathered slaw leaking onto your diner cheeseburger.
But cabbage has some moves. Thanks to its versatility—its sweet mildness allows for a huge range of flavors to pair with—cabbage is making a comeback in dishes by everyone from London’s famed veg-king Yotam Ottolenghi to LA’s favorite Korean son, Roy Choi. With a little love, and a few modern twists, cabbage gets nasty good.
The History of Cabbage in 30 Seconds or Less. Closely related to broccoli, cauliflower and (ugh) Brussels sprouts, cabbage is a leafy green or purple plant that can grow up to 9 pounds, or roughly the same weight of a human head. No one knows exactly when it was first domesticated—cabbage cultivation isn’t the kind of thing a civilization records for posterity. But consensus is it was somewhere around 1,000 B.C. in Europe. Since then, cabbage has been pickled, fermented, steamed, stewed, sautéed, braised and even buried in the ground for years at a time, all in the name of flavor.
The Good Stuff. There’s a lot of it. Cabbage is full of cancer-fighting antioxidants and vitamins—e.g., it possess more vitamin C than an orange—as well as lots of fiber, minerals, calcium and potassium.
Cabbage Gone Wild. Anybody capable of searching for Paula Deen on Google can throw bacon at cabbage. But that’s as uninspired as a massaged kale salad. Instead, follow the lead of Charlie Trotter protege, Bill Kim, chef behind Chicago’s Korean power-trio Urbanbelly, Belly Shack and BellyQ. Kim’s recipe for Napa cabbage and dried shrimp is a decadent yet easy-to-make dish that’ll have you saying, “kale who?”
Bill Kim’s Napa Cabbage and Dried Shrimp
- 4 quarts Napa cabbage thinly sliced, washed and dried
- 2 cups onion thinly sliced
- 1 cup garlic thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp dried shrimp, minced (find at any Asian market)
- 4 oz sesame oil
- 6 thinly sliced jalapeño circles
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 4 oz vegetable oil
- Korean chili flakes for garnish (optional)
- In a shallow pot with a wide cooking surface, sweat garlic and onion in 2 oz of oil until translucent and aromatic
- Add dried shrimp and jalapeño and cook until highly aromatic, stirring constantly. Add oil if bottom begins to look dry
- Add in Napa cabbage and stir well
- Add fish sauce and sesame oil when cabbage begins to wilt, stirring constantly
- Adjust to taste
- Serve in a bowl atop rice.
Cook time: about 5 minutes.