Green cabbage merits your undivided attention

This versatile leafy green is so much more than a "storage vegetable"

By Maggie Hennessy


Published October 23, 2022 5:30PM (EDT)

Green cabbage and tomato (Photo courtesy of Maggie Hennessy)
Green cabbage and tomato (Photo courtesy of Maggie Hennessy)

Owing to a hereditary compulsion to eat fresh fruit and vegetables with every meal, I occasionally find myself in a panic when the veg drawer stores have dwindled at lunch or dinner time. But lo, way in the back of the fridge sits a neglected head of green cabbage! No matter that the outer leaves look a little limp; this spherical brassica can endure forgotten for up to two months, bagged in plastic in the crisper drawer. 

Although my relationship to cabbage unfortunately began as a last-resort veg (celery, your article is forthcoming), I've come to cherish its versatility — grilled, roasted, sautéd or raw, recipe star or supporting actress. 

My early memories cemented cabbage as little more than root vegetable filler in a boiled dinner starring brackish corned beef, or encasing humble beef and rice filling in my German-born grandmother's stuffed cabbage rolls. As much as I loved the latter, the use of cabbage leaves owed almost entirely (and explicitly) to their practicality — another economical use for this sturdy "storage vegetable," as my grandmother, a lifelong gardener, often called it.

With time, I realized I was willfully leaving deliciousness on the table by limiting cabbage to the role of background vegetable or beef-and-rice envelope. For instance, have you ever known the sweet, roasty charred delights of a grilled cabbage wedge sprinkled with bright lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil? Or considered what a tasty fried rice building block sliced cabbage makes alongside ginger, scallions, eggs and shrimp? Have you delighted in the jammy sweetness of braised cabbage smeared with tomato paste and showered with fresh dill? What about the beguiling, cooling quality of peppery raw cabbage slaw tossed with lots of lemon and a generous pinch of dried mint? Would you say no to cabbage sautéed with garlicky kielbasa and thinly sliced potatoes, or swirled into a warming minestrone starring white beans, fennel and tomatoes? 

The good news is, once you've opened your mind to one of these possibilities — or, perhaps, to my all-purpose stir-fried cabbage and tomato — you should have enough cabbage leftover to venture into a second or a third. 

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Before long, you'll find yourself wondering whether thinnish sliced cabbage wedges make for a delicious gratin base in place of potatoes. (Spoiler: Yes.) Or perhaps you'll start tossing your homemade caesar dressing with charred cabbage leaves instead of romaine. (Just don't forget a shower of fresh, pan-fried breadcrumbs, please.) 

All of this awaits you in the back of the crisper drawer, and with far more patience than the rest of those frail vegetables, I might add.

Stir-fried cabbage and tomato
3 servings
Prep Time
5 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes


¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce or tamari

½-inch knob ginger, grated

¾ tsp toasted sesame oil

2 Tbsp grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 cups sliced green cabbage

½ tsp sugar

2 smallish roma tomatoes, diced

3 fat garlic cloves, minced

1 small shallot (or ¼ a small red onion), minced

Freshly ground black pepper




  1. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the soy, ginger and sesame oil. Set aside. 

  2. Heat a large skillet or cast iron pan over high, and add the oil. Add the cabbage and sprinkle in the sugar; sauté, tossing occasionally, until the cabbage starts to soften and char in places, 5-7 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-high, and add the tomatoes, garlic and shallot. Cook for another couple of minutes, until the shallot softens and you smell the garlic.

  3. Add the soy-ginger mixture, tossing well, and cook for another minute. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as desired with soy. Add about 10 grinds' worth of black pepper. Toss, and serve.


Cook's Notes

If you want to make a meal out of this savory, all-purpose side, scramble a couple of eggs into the mixture (or toss in half a can of chickpeas) near the end, then heap that beautiful mess on a thick piece of buttered toast or serve it over rice

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By Maggie Hennessy

Maggie Hennessy is a Chicago-based freelance food and drink journalist and the restaurant critic for Time Out Chicago. Her work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Taste, Eater and Food52.

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