Did you know that the word cabbage also means money? Or, that you can use it as a verb to mean take off with someone else’s stuff? That might not be the exact dictionary definition, but there’s more to this heavy head of dense nutrition than meets the eye. Variety in word meaning, variety in color, and variety in use. A seasonal super food indeed. Rather than write a little bit about several foods, I’ve decided to focus on cabbage this month and include a recipe (see the rest of the seasonal food list at the end of this post). Here’s the rundown —
Cabbage is available all year, but late summer and early fall is peak harvest time. I have to be honest (disclosure time), I’ve never been a big cabbage fan and can hardly stand sauerkraut. But as Bob Dylan once sang, the times they are a-changin’. I’m still not keen on sauerkraut (I know, I know — it’s really healthy), but I suddenly have a crush on cabbage. My CSA buddies at Grant Family Farms have been delivering cabbage by the truckload lately. I’m determined to eat everything I get from them each week, so even though I’d prefer a double dose of the pears or apples in lieu of the cabbage, I’m starting to like the stuff. A lot.
Whether green, red, purple, or white, choose the heaviest heads with nice firm leaves. Red and white varieties have dense, tightly packed leaves. Savoy cabbage is greenish-yellow and has loosely packed, ruffled leaves. Napa or Chinese cabbage has light green leaves and grows in an oblong shape with wide, crispy stems. I love using Napa cabbage as a “boat” or “wrap” for tuna or salmon salad. Bok choy, another type of cabbage, looks a bit like Swiss chard, with white stalks and big, green leaves.
First off, since my work focus is on intestinal health, I have to mention that research indicates raw cabbage juice is a fast and effective treatment for peptic ulcers. Cabbage is a rich source of the amino acid, glutamine, which stimulates the production of cells that line the stomach and small intestine. This increased cell production facilitates healing. According to Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower) also contain isothiocyanates, which inhibit enzymes that activate carcinogens and trigger the production of enzymes that detoxify carcinogens. Cabbage also contains indoles, which may help block DNA damage from carcinogens. If that’s not enough, cabbage is also rich in some high-end phytonutrients (plant chemicals) that contain sulfur compounds called sinigrins. When you chop, chew, and digest these compounds, they help fight against colon cancer. Good, good, good. We want our bodies to fight the good fight against intestinal diseases and cancer.
On to the regular stuff. Cabbage, especially bok choy, is high in bone-building calcium, magnesium, and manganese, which may come as a surprise. Yes, you can get your calcium from plant sources if you don’t eat dairy! (For a complete list of non-dairy calcium sources, check here.) Cabbage is also rich in heart-healthy nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B-6, omega-3s, potassium, and vitamin A. So far we have bone-building and heart-healthy, which fits nicely into my sport-specific nutrition plan (you know I’m into that whole exercise thing, right?). Cabbage is also high in energy-producing B-vitamins and muscle-building protein. Protein? Wow, and it’s so low in calories! It’s on my list of my super foods.
Fix it tips
If your cabbage is wilted and funky, just peel off a few of the leaves. Cabbage leaves are so densely packed, it’s probably still fresh a few layers down.
Part of the reason I’ve never been fond of cooked cabbage is that stinky, rotten egg smell. Ugh! The smell comes from the break-down of sulfur-containing substances. Hydrogen sulfide is released in the process, which I don’t find remotely appealing. To avoid that, cut it finely and cook it quickly, which is healthier anyway. Use a fast stir fry method or steam lightly. To maintain the red color of cooked cabbage, add a touch of lemon juice or vinegar to the cooking water.
Now, who gets gas when they eat cabbage? Show of hands, please. No one? I don’t believe you. But just in case you know someone who does — if you cook it in two stages, you can avoid the gas issue (or at least mitigate it). Boil, discard the water half-way through the process and start over. I’m not crazy about boiled cabbage, but if cabbage gets to you, try this method.
Other than lightly sautéed in a touch of vegetable broth, I much prefer it raw. Here’s a cabbage salad my mom used to make when I was growing up. It was the only way I’d eat cabbage when I was little and now that I’m being inundated with the stuff, I’ve brought this recipe back to life. I’d forgotten how good it is. Yum!
what you need
3 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 – 1/2 cup peanuts *
1 – 2 bananas, sliced
very small amount of Spectrum organic mayonnaise (or whatever kind you prefer)
what you do
Put cabbage, raisins, peanuts, and banana slices in large bowl. Add a small amount of mayonnaise — a little goes a long way. Gently toss and serve immediately.
* Peanuts aren’t nuts, they’re actually legumes. Shelled peanuts should be packaged in a tightly sealed container and stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Avoid exposing nuts to heat, light, or humidity as they can become rancid (not good). Aflatoxin is a potentially toxic fungus that grows on peanuts in warm, humid temperatures. Past problems with this prompted the FDA to enforce a ruling banning foods that test positive (20 ppb) for aflatoxins. Peanuts are healthy snacks, just make sure you store them correctly. While they’re not easy to find, organic versions are starting to find their way into health food stores. Farmers in New Mexico are producing the majority of organic peanuts.
Here’s the rest of my “Seasonal Foods For September” list —
In good health,