We’ve got one foot in summer, one foot in fall these days, and most of us are trying not to think too much about winter. In the mean time, the 2013 bountiful harvest continues, easing us out of summer’s special treats and into heartier, warmer fare. With just two weeks left of the Tilton Farmers’ Market for this season (don’t worry, planning is underway for the Tilton WINTER Farmers’ Market—stay tuned!), it’s time to think not only about stocking up for the weekend, but stocking up for the next few months. It’s just plain smart to fill your freezer now with farm-raised beef, pork and poultry, and your cupboards with fresh jams, pasta, sauces and more good farmers’ market foods.
While we’re at it, let’s take a closer look at one beautiful vegetable—in season right now—that never seems to get enough attention. It’s time to use your head…your head of cabbage, that is!
The humble cabbage conjures images of simple, old-fashioned meals and victory gardens. For many, cabbage is cole slaw and that’s it. For some, it’s the slimy, smelly vegetable that makes its appearance on Saint Patrick’s Day. But these days, cabbage is increasingly finding its way into the kitchens of creative and health-conscious cooks, and the culinary possibilities are endless.
The local fall crop of cabbage in these parts is just coming to market. Like most vegetables, cabbage is at its best when eaten fresh and grown locally. If you’ve only had old, pale, rubbery cabbage from the grocery store, or bone-white cole slaw from a drive-through restaurant, you’re overdue for tasting the farm-fresh difference.
Cabbage made its way to Europe from Asia with the Celts in 600 B.C., and centuries later found its claim to fame on the voyages of Captain Hook in the late 1700s, providing sailors with critically-important vitamin C. Prior to that, sailors on long trips often lost their lives to scurvy, a mystery illness at the time. Captain Hook even used poultices of cabbage on sailors’ wounds to prevent gangrene.
Medical research has recently revealed cabbage’s other healthy secrets, and those of its cousins in the brassica family like kale, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. All have powerful cancer-fighting properties and are densely nutritious. Cabbage’s phytonutrients work to disarm free radicals before they harm DNA, cell membranes and fatty molecules like cholesterol. They also signal genes to produce enzymes involved in detoxification: cleansing our tissues of harmful compounds. Cabbage, with only 16 calories in a half cup, is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, beta carotene and fiber.
Choose heads that feel heavy for their size and have crisp, bright outer leaves. Color is often an indicator of nutrition, so look for dark green or vibrant purple heads. Cabbage will keep well in the refrigerator in plastic or an air-tight container for a few weeks or more. If you use only part of a head, try to use the rest within two or three days; it loses vitamin C quickly upon being cut.
If you have ventured into the world of cooked cabbage, you may have experienced the stinky side of its personality. That is, its tendency to emit hydrogen sulfide gas during the cooking process. Cooking with cabbage doesn’t have to stink up the house! Try shredding it very finely and doing a quick stir-fry, maybe with sliced peppers, caraway seeds and a little lemon juice. Since production of hydrogen sulfide doubles after five minutes of cooking, keeping cooking time short helps a lot. Keeping it crunchy will also ensure that you haven’t cooked off valuable nutrients.
Roasting cabbage, alone or with other vegetables, is easy and delicious. At a temperature of at least 400 degrees, any sugars present caramelize, creating a sweet, gooey brown crunch. Just cut the cabbage in wedges, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. While it’s hot from the oven (after about 30 minutes), try topping it with a dollop of a soft, creamy cheese fresh goat cheese—from the market, maybe; the melting cheese will create an instant, creamy sauce.
About that cole slaw. Why not reinvent it completely with the fruits of your next farmers market excursion? The name “cole slaw” derives from the Dutch word “koolsla” and literally means “cabbage salad.” Cabbage combines beautifully with flavors like thyme, mustard, garlic, dill and ginger, as well as other vegetables like carrots, beets, potatoes and onions.
Try tossing finely sliced red cabbage with chopped apples, grated carrots and walnuts, combined with a light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. For a rich addition or to turn a salad into a light meal, find some New England blue cheese to crumble on top. Use your head, get creative and mix up your own version of a really cool slaw!
See you at the market!