How to Cook Cabbage So It's Delicious
In this ultimate guide, learn how to prep and cut cabbage and cook it up on the stove, in the oven or on the grill. Plus, how to make sauerkraut and coleslaw.
Cabbage is among the most versatile vegetables. It can be served raw as a crunchy coleslaw, braised on the stove for a meaty stew, roasted in the oven, cooked in the slow cooker, or even grilled like a steak. Cabbage doesn't always get the appreciation it deserves. That's because it often plays second fiddle to other elements of a dish, whether it's corned beef or barbecue. And it sometimes has a bad reputation for being slimy and a bit pungent. But the secret to enjoying cabbage in all these forms is to start by cooking it correctly.
Try These: Healthy Cabbage Recipes
How to Prep Cabbage
If you're preparing red, green or Savoy cabbage:
1. Remove several outer leaves from the head; rinse with water.
2. Cut the cabbage head into quarters.
3. Remove the thick core from the center of each quarter.
If you're preparing napa cabbage:
1. Remove several outer leaves from the head; rinse with water.
2. Cut in half or slice crosswise, depending on what you need for your recipe.
You can remove the core from napa cabbage if you want. It's tougher than the leaves, but it is delicate enough to be eaten and has an enjoyable mild flavor.
Pictured Recipe: Quick "Corned" Beef & Cabbage
How to Cook Cabbage
All four main varieties of cabbage can be eaten raw or cooked. Green and red cabbage are often enjoyed boiled, steamed, sautéed, grilled or even roasted. Napa cabbage and Savoy cabbage, however, may not hold up to prolonged exposure to heat as well as green or red cabbage do. They're particularly great in fresh preparations.
Here, how to cook cabbage so it's delightful and gets the perfect texture no matter how you choose to use it.
1. Cooking Cabbage on the Stove
How to Braise Cabbage
1. Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
2. Add quartered, cored and sliced red cabbage to the pot, stirring occasionally, until it wilts, about 5 minutes.
3. Add reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth), salt, peppercorns and a bay leaf to the pot; bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on low until the cabbage is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes for medium or large heads of cabbage.
4. Add a splash of white vinegar to the pan; stir. Increase temperature to medium-high. Cook until the remaining liquid mostly evaporates, 8 to 10 minutes.
You can also add ingredients like onions, leeks or carrots before you wilt the cabbage to boost the flavor of the final dish.
How to Steam Cabbage
1. Put a steamer basket inside a large saucepan or pot. Add enough water to fill the bottom of the pan, keeping the level below the steamer basket.
2. Bring the water to a boil. Add cabbage wedges to the steamer basket. Cover and steam until the cabbage is tender-crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Season and serve.
Try These: Healthy Cabbage Side Dish Recipes
Pictured Recipe: Sautéed Red Cabbage with Shallots & Hazelnuts
How to Sauté Cabbage
1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add chopped cabbage, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage begins to wilt, 7 to 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and caraway seeds (or fennel seeds), if desired. Serve immediately.
You can add more flavor to this dish by sautéing the cabbage with ingredients like garlic, ginger, soy sauce or sesame oil.
Try These: Low-Calorie Cabbage Recipes
How to Boil Cabbage
1. Fill a large pot or Dutch oven with a half inch of lightly salted water (or vegetable broth). Bring to a boil.
2. Add cabbage wedges. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, turning once.
3. Carefully pour off the water (or broth). Return the pot to the stove and cook until the remaining moisture evaporates, 2 to 3 minutes. Add melted butter (or oil) and carefully toss to coat.
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Red Cabbage with Caraway Butter
2. Cooking Cabbage in the Oven
How to Roast Cabbage
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Cut cabbage head into wedges or rounds. Toss or spray with oil. Arrange the cabbage in a single layer on a greased rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt, pepper, and caraway seeds (or fennel seeds), if desired.
3. Bake until the cabbage is golden and tender, 25 to 35 minutes. Flip once. Thick cabbage rounds will need more time.
Pictured Recipe: Red Cabbage Porterhouse Steaks with Herb Butter
3. Cooking Cabbage Steaks on the Grill
1. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.
2. Place cabbage heads stem-side up on a cutting board. Using a large chef's knife, cut two 1-inch-thick slices from the center of the cabbage head. Save the remaining cabbage for another use.
3. Brush the cabbage round with butter, oil or a marinade of your making. Grill the cabbage steaks until charred, 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Place the grilled steaks on a greased rimmed baking sheet.
4. Place the baking sheet in an oven preheated to 400°F. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes. Serve with a flavored butter.
If you want even more flavor, marinate the cabbage steaks for 8 hours or overnight. You can reserve the marinade and drizzle it over the finished steaks before serving.
Pictured Recipe: Simple Sauerkraut
How to Make Sauerkraut
1. Start with clean hands. Thinly slice cabbage quarters. Place in a large bowl.
2. Sprinkle cabbage with 1 teaspoon salt. Massage the salt into the cabbage with your hands until the cabbage looks shiny, about 10 minutes. Add more salt, 1/4 teaspoon at a time, to reach desired flavor. Continue to massage the cabbage until it becomes limp and wet and the brine runs freely when you squeeze the cabbage.
3. Transfer the cabbage to a sterilized 1-quart glass jar. Press down firmly with your hand or a sterilized pestle to remove air. Add brine to cover the cabbage. Leave at least 2 inches of space between the top of the brine and the top of the jar to allow for expansion. Remove any pieces of cabbage that float in the brine. If the brine doesn't cover the cabbage, add filtered water to cover.
4. Seal the jar with a sterilized lid. Place the jar in a glass bowl or plastic dish, and set it in an out-of-the-way spot on your kitchen counter, away from direct sunlight.
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Fermentation time will vary depending on a variety of factors. In warmer environments, the cabbage may ferment in just 24 hours, but it can take up to 10 days or two weeks.
During the fermentation process, open the jar daily to release built-up air. Occasionally, press the cabbage down with a sterilized utensil like a spoon or fork to keep the cabbage completely submerged in the brine. (Any pieces that float invite mold.)
Let the cabbage ferment to your preferred flavor. The longer the cabbage sits, the stronger the fermentation. Use a sterilized utensil to taste-test your sauerkraut to get it right. When you've reached the flavor you want, transfer the jar to your refrigerator to stop fermentation. Most homemade sauerkraut will last three to six months in the fridge.
Pictured Recipe: Cabbage Slaw
How to Make Coleslaw
To make a healthy coleslaw recipe, you can use just one type of cabbage, or try a mix. You can also add other crunchy ingredients like celery, bell pepper and green onions. The great thing about coleslaw is how creative you can be with the ingredients. Just be sure to chill it before serving so the flavors have a chance to mingle.
1. Combine mayonnaise, plain yogurt, Dijon mustard, cider vinegar, sugar, celery seeds, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
2. Add 2 parts each shredded red and green cabbage and 1 part grated carrots. Toss well. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
How to Shop for Cabbage
When you're shopping for green or red cabbage, look for a head of cabbage that feels heavy for its size. Also, be sure it has a bright, vibrant color. Avoid any heads of cabbage that have brown spots, deep cuts or discoloration. If the leaves look wilted, skip that head of cabbage too.
If you're shopping for Savoy or napa cabbage, the head of cabbage will feel lighter because of the tender leaves, so look for a head that has supple leaves that remain tight or compact. If the leaves look dry or wilted, put it back.
More than 400 varieties of cabbage are grown today, but only a few are common enough for the typical grocery store. Green and red cabbage are the most familiar.
Green cabbage, also called Dutch white, is peppery when raw but turns more buttery when cooked.
Red cabbage is sweeter from the start. It also has more vitamins and minerals than green cabbage thanks to anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that gives some fruits and vegetables their blue, purple and red hues.
Savoy cabbage is a beautiful, crinkly leaved type of cabbage. It's tender when raw, so it's particularly good in slaw. Savoy cabbage leaves are also thinner than red or green cabbage leaves, so they work well as a low-carb wrap for tacos or sandwiches.
Napa cabbage is a unique variety because of its tall, barrel-shaped heads. They're quite a bit smaller than other heads of cabbage, and they're appreciated for their mild flavor and tender texture. Napa cabbage leaves are frilly and delicate, so they're ideal in salads or stir-fries. This is also the type of cabbage that's often used for kimchi, a spicy, probiotic-rich Korean condiment.
Pictured Recipe: Chicken Tacos in Cabbage "Tortillas"
How to Store Cabbage
Red, green and Savoy cabbage heads can be stored in a zip-top plastic bag in the fridge up to 10 days. Napa cabbage can be stored in the same way, but its shelf life is shorter. Plan to use napa cabbage within five days of bringing it home from the store or farmers' market.
If you are storing cut cabbage, wrap the exposed side in plastic wrap to avoid moisture loss. Before using it again, cut away a thin slice off the exposed area to remove any discoloration or dried leaves.
Pictured Recipe: Spicy Slaw Bowls with Shrimp & Edamame
Cabbage Nutrition Facts
Cabbage is a calorie bargain. One cup of shredded raw cabbage has about 20 calories, 0 grams fat, 5 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar and 0 milligrams cholesterol. It also has 1 gram protein, 2 grams fiber and 170 milligrams potassium.
Cabbage is a good source of fiber and vitamin C. All cabbages, like other cruciferous vegetables, also contain a cancer-fighting compound called sulforaphane.
Related: Health Benefits of Cabbage
How to Grow Your Own Cabbage
Cabbage is a cool-weather crop, so you can get more than one harvest each year if you plant appropriately. Most green cabbage varieties, for example, take about 70 days to grow. Peak season is late fall through winter, but spring cabbage is delicious and flavorful, too. Watch for pests. Cabbages are particularly attractive to some pesky bugs.
1. Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost, and plant outside 2 to 3 weeks before last frost.
2. Place plants 12 to 24 inches apart in rows, and cover with mulch to help the soil retain moisture. Water 2 inches per week.
3. When the plants reach about 5 inches tall, thin the plants to give each cabbage room to grow.
4. Harvest when the heads reach desired size, between 6 and 8 inches typically.