Have you ever purchased a head of cabbage, even a small one, chopped it up, and realized you had way more than you needed? This vegetable really does keep on giving — not only does it seem to go on and on as you chop away, but as the mother of all Brassicas, cabbage has gifted us her children in the form of much-loved broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, collards and Brussels sprouts. While kale, Brussels sprouts and even cauliflower get more of the love, cabbage is a vegetable truly worth our attention: packed with nutrients, a head of cabbage stores well and can be used in many ways.
But, as we know, when you pick up a head of Napa cabbage to make cabbage rolls, or some red cabbage for a salad, you might find yourself with half a head of leftover cabbage and not know what to do. Luckily, there are so many options! From a salad or stir-fry that can be made in minutes to sauerkraut or kimchi that can be saved for months, cabbage is a versatile vegetable that you should be thankful to have around. Since ancient Roman times, writers like Cato have appreciated the value of cabbage: "It is the cabbage which surpasses all other vegetables." Today, there are farmers and home gardeners growing heirloom cabbage varieties; cookbooks devoted solely to the vegetable; and an entire market for tote bags, t-shirts and other cabbage merchandise. Here, 45-plus ways to fall in love with the cruciferous vegetable and use up every leaf you've got.
How to Shop for Cabbage
Although there are many varieties of cabbage, U.S. grocery stores typically carry European red and green cabbages, Savoy, and Napa cabbage varieties. Green and red cabbage are similar, with round heads made up of wide, fan-like leaves that are slightly rubbery in texture when raw. When shopping, look for red and green cabbages that have firm, tight heads that feel heavy for their size. They shouldn't have any black spots, although wilted or bruised outer leaves are fine; they can be trimmed before using.
Savoy cabbage is similar in shape to green cabbage, with slightly looser, less dense leaves. The leaves are deep green and crinkled, somewhat similar to kale in texture and taste. Again, look for heads that are compact and tight, although this cabbage will be lighter and looser thanks to their textured leaves.
Napa cabbage is the most commonly found Asian cabbage variety, sometimes called Chinese cabbage. It is used for kimchi, salads, and stir-fry, among others. Napa cabbage has a long, elongated head with compact leaves, crisp stems, and frilly green leaves. When shopping, avoid limp stems or wilted leaves.
Farmers' markets, Asian markets and specialty shops may have other varieties, including a Taiwanese flat cabbage, with a flattened spherical shape, loosely packed leaves and a sweet, mild flavor; red Napa cabbage; and Conehead cabbage, shaped as the name suggests, with a color and texture similar to green cabbage, but a sweet, light flavor.
How to Store and Prep Cabbage
The hearty cabbage is a great vegetable to have around — store it properly in a cool environment like the refrigerator, basement, garage or cellar, and it will long outlast tender leafy greens. To prepare, first remove any wilted or scraggly leaves. If leaves are primarily intact and clean, wash the outer leaves, then trim off any bruised areas, so as to waste as little as possible. Cut the cabbage in half, then cut out the triangle shaped core on either side with a sharp paring knife. Rinse to remove any dirt and use it as the recipe instructs.
Ways to Use Cabbage Raw
Want to use up extra leftover cabbage? The easiest way to do it is easy: eat it raw. Here are four different techniques to prepare leftover cabbage raw.
A classic summer cookout side dish, coleslaw is typically made with a combination of chopped red and green cabbage and carrots and tossed dressing, either a creamy one made with mayonnaise, or a vinegar-based dressing. Use any type of leftover cabbage, and add other vegetables or fruits, including sliced apple, green onions, fennel, celery root, radishes, beets and more. You can also substitute yogurt or kefir in the dressing for the mayonnaise.
While slaws tend to be thinly shredded cabbage and other vegetables, cabbage salads will toss in other ingredients, such as meat, nuts and cheese, and use the cabbage in different ways, cutting it larger or heating it up. Because a small cabbages can be shred into a huge amount of greens, they make for big salads — good for parties or potlucks. The refreshing Lebanese cabbage salad includes a bright lemony marinade and fresh herbs. The Vietnamese chicken and cabbage salad (Goi Ga Bap Cai) includes a similar combination of ingredients to coleslaw, tossed in a sweet-and-savory marinade made with fish sauce, and topped with roasted peanuts. You can use whatever vegetables you like for a cabbage salad, but try green cabbage with other raw green veg, such as peas, cucumbers and the like, for a crisp salad. And for a warm salad, you can roast or grill cabbage and serve with vinaigrette.
Tuna Cabbage Salad
Take your typical sandwich salad — tuna, chicken, or even the vegetarian chickpea version — and add chopped cabbage for a crunchy bite.
Topping for Sandwiches, Tacos & More
That crunchy cabbage bite is also delicious on top of tacos, used on crispy chicken sandwiches and more. Red cabbage in particular finds its way on top of many meals, but you can use thinly sliced cabbage of any sort as a crunchy garnish.
Ways to Cook with Cabbage
There are many ways to turn an extra half a head of cabbage into your next meal — toss it into a frittata; add it into the soup pot; saute it with sausage for a one-pan dinner; braise it with bacon; or slow cook it into a gratin. Thanks to it's crisp inner core and tender leaves, it's an easy ingredient to substitute in recipes calling for cauliflower, broccoli or chard. But there are also many recipes from around the world that put the spotlight on cabbage. Here are a few to try out when you find yourself with too much cabbage on hand.
You can find cabbage stir-fry in many regions of the globe. In India, a stir-fried cabbage dish with fennel seeds and garam masala makes a flavorful side dish. In Chinese cabbage stir-fry, the cabbage leaves are often hand torn in irregular size pieces, which is said to make the finished dish tastier, and dried chilies, szechuan peppercorn and Chinese sausage are all common ingredients. In a Thai cabbage stir-fry, fish sauce black pepper and garlic are more common. And in Japanese stir-fry, classic Japanese ingredients, soy sauce, sake, and oyster sauce, are used for seasoning, alongside whatever vegetables you have on hand.
The Japanese pancake okonomiyaki, a popular street food in Osaka, is made from a batter of shredded cabbage, flour, water and a myriad of mix-ins, including scallions, fish, vegetables and more. In the Korean version, the cabbage pancake is made by coating the cabbage leaves in a batter, similarly to fried fish, creating a crispy exterior.
The classic Irish mashed potato dish Colcannon is most commonly made with cabbage (occasionally kale), milk and butter, for a creamy, rich side dish. It's especially popular on St. Patrick's Day, often eaten with ham, beef or sausages. Next time you have some leftover cabbage on hand, add it to a batch of mashed potatoes or other veggies.
Dumplings, Gyoza and More
In many Asian cuisines, cabbage is used as a filling for dumplings, including Japanese gyoza, Chinese potstickers, Shanghai-style spring rolls, Vietnamese spring rolls and more. Indian dumplings, including kofta and muthias, can also be made using cabbage. And sauerkraut, which can be made from green or red varieties, are used as a filling for perogies and other dumplings in Eastern Europe (see below for more).
Italian Cabbage and Rice
This simple Italian meal combines tomato puree, rice and cabbage for a rustic, risotto-like dish. Marcella Hazan adds additional stock to turn the dish into a soup.
This classic Lombardy pasta recipe dates back to the 18th Century, and the Italians are so serious about it, they gave the original recipe DOP (Denominazione d' Origine Protetta) status. It also happens to be quite easy to put together, combining buckwheat pasta, potatoes, wilted cabbage and cheese.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
The cabbage roll — a dish in which cabbage leaves are wrapped around a variety of fillings, then steamed, baked or simmered — is eaten in a number of countries throughout Europe, Western and Northern China and parts of North Africa. They may feature meat fillings, with beef, lamb or pork seasoned with garlic, onion and spices, as well as rice, barley, mushrooms and vegetables. While similar in construction, they vary greatly from region to region. In Hungary, fermented sauerkraut leaves are often used as the wrapper. In Sweden and Finland, a sweet-tart lingonberry jam is served with cabbage rolls. In Asia, the filling includes seafoods, tofu and shiitake mushrooms, and Chinese cabbage is usually used as the wrapping.
Taiwanese Braised Cabbage
This recipe from FoodPrint contributor and author of "Taiwan Eats" Cathy Erway, is for a classic Taiwanese side dish. Using dried shiitake and dried shrimp allows you to make the dish whenever you want, and reconstituting the dried ingredients creates a liquid that is used for the braising. As Erway writes, the cabbage is soupier than the typical sauteed veggie side, making it great to spoon on top of rice to flavor the entire bowl.
How to Preserve Cabbage
The lowly cabbage can be found in pickled, fermented recipes all over the world, from Germany's sauerkraut to Haiti's pikliz. Although the ingredients can differ greatly, the general process includes salting, seasoning and fermenting cabbage.
The classic Eastern European cabbage dish, sauerkraut, is served in Germany, Poland, Alsace and throughout the Slavic nations alongside hearty winter meals and big cuts of rich meats as an acidic accompaniment. While regional variations differ, it's common to find sauerkraut made with caraway seeds, apple and juniper berries. In Polsih, Russian and Ukrainian cuisine, it is often used as a filling for pierogies and other dumplings. The traditional recipe will take about three weeks to properly ferment; if you don't want to wait that long, make krautsalat, a mix between sauerkraut and slaw, which combines just five ingredients and can be ready to serve in an hour. Preparing a small batch of krautsalat is a great way of using up leftover cabbage.
Although the Korean fermented kimchi can be made with many vegetables, Napa cabbage is a classic ingredient to make it with. Beyond Korean red chili paste (Gochujang), which gives it the bright red color, the seasonings in kimchi vary regionally, and can include garlic, ginger, and some sort of salted or dried fish. A similar Japanese recipe, the fermented cabbage dish hakusai no tsukemono, is a more simple fermentation, made with salt, cabbage and chili flake.
Several Latin American cuisines have a pickled or fermented cabbage dish. The Salvadoran relish curtido is made with cabbage and carrot and is characterized by an addition of oregano, preferable Mexican. The Haitian pikliz gets an intense kick of heat from an addition of Scotch bonnet peppers.