Cabbage suffers unfairly from a poor image. For many people, just the mere mention of it conjures up bad memories. But properly treated, cabbage is sweet, mild, and delicious. It’s also extremely nutritious—high in vitamin C and many antioxidants. Although cheap and plentiful year-round, cabbage is king in winter. Gardeners take note: Cabbages grown in cool weather and touched by frost are likely to be sweeter than those grown in warm weather. At the market, it’s easy to select good cabbage. Choose heads that are heavy and firm. Avoid any with a dried or cracked stem, which indicates an old cabbage that’s liable to be bitter.
The red, the white, and the green
There are three main types of European-style (as opposed to Chinese) cabbage, including green (sometimes called white); savoy, with lovely crinkled green and yellow leaves; and red. Green cabbage is my standard choice, and works well with any of the slaws, sautés, braises and soups described below. Savoy cabbage has a lighter texture, thanks to its wrinkled leaves, and is especially beautiful in slaw or cut into wedges and steamed or braised.
I prefer to use red cabbage raw, because the coloring that makes it so pretty fades with cooking to a drab gray. But cooking red cabbage in an acidic liquid such as wine or vinegar does help the vegetable retain its color. Avoid cutting red cabbage with a carbon-steel knife or cooking it in an aluminum pot, both of which also cause discoloration.