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Cabbage: One of the Most Nutritious Vegetables

posted on: Aug 4, 2021

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

A member of the cruciferous family that includes Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, cabbage is one of the most ancient of vegetables. It has been on the tables of mankind, especially those of the working class, for untold centuries. One of the most nutritious vegetables cultivated by man, it is packed with vitamins and minerals. Taking only three months growing time, it yields large harvests and stores well. The acreage of cabbage yields more edible vegetables than the acreage of any other plant consumed. Hence, for thousands of years it was a God-sent food to peasants. 

The original homeland of cabbage was likely China where it still is extensively cultivated. In that land, it has been credited in the past for saving millions during the years of famine. It traveled to Europe in the mist of history, perhaps, some 2,500 years ago. Due to its lengthy storage qualities and resistance to cold, it became a major crop in the continent. The French Explorer Jacques Cartier in this mid-16th century brought cabbage to the Americas where, like in Europe, it became much favoured by the working class and farmers. 

During the Depression years in Western Canada, to our family, as well as our farm neighbours, cabbage during harvest and well into the cooler months was on our daily menu. When I think back to those lean years, I have come to believe, even though our parents did not know its healthful qualities, that this ancient vegetable must have helped sustain our health – a great benefit since we had virtually no access to doctors. 

Cabbage in the earlier centuries was not the tight – leafed head that we see today but rather a loose-leaf variety like collards or kale. The head variety was developed during the Middle Ages in northern Europe. Today, it is the majority cabbage used in cooking around the world, coming in dozens of different varieties the most common being green red and Savoy. 

A dieter’s dream, one cup of cabbage contains about 20 calories, and it is a good source of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and especially C, E, and K; as well as containing calcium, fatty acids, potassium, manganese, magnesium, protein, and excellent dietary fibre.  With all these vitamins and minerals, it is no wonder that some food writers call cabbage ‘a compact health food store’.

Cabbage has many healing attributes, a good number scientifically proven. It improves digestion and reduces constipation. Researchers have established that cabbage is rich in chemicals called isothiocyanate, inhibiting the growth of breast, stomach and, especially colon and lung cancer. As well, it stimulates the immune system, killing harmful bacteria, soothing ulcers, and improving blood circulation. 

Combined with its healthful qualities is its versatility in the kitchen. Cabbage can be eaten raw, steamed, baked, braised, sauteed or stuffed. It also blends well with other vegetables such as potatoes, leeks, onions and carrots, and makes an excellent companion to corn beef and sausage. As well, a whole series of herbs and spices such as celery seed, cumin, caraway, dill, garlic, mustard, pepper, savory, tarragon, thyme, and numerous others, go well with this healthy vegetable.

Cabbage reaches its epitome of nobility in the kitchen when it is made into cabbage rolls.  A favourite dish in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, it becomes a gourmet food when prepared with the right amount of herbs and spices. On the farm, coming back from the fields to a steaming pot of cabbage rolls was, for us children and meal fit for the tables of the wealthy. 

These few dishes are mostly my mother’s dishes with a Middle Eastern flavour – enhanced by others that I picked up from around the world and herbs and spices that usually were not available on the farm. 

Cabbage Rolls – Malfuf Mahshi

Serves about 8

The meat-filled cabbage rolls re where cabbage reaches its epitome in the kitchen.

1 medium head cabbage, about 3 pounds

1-pound lamb or beef, ground or cut into very small pieces

1 cup rice, rinsed

2 cups stewed tomatoes

3 tablespoons melted butter

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint 

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cumin and

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 teaspoon salt

8 cloves garlic, chopped into large pieces

1/2 cup lemon juice 

Place cabbage in a pot of boiling water then cook for a few minutes to soften leaves.  Loosen leaves with a knife from bottom.  Trim thick ribs then cut large ones in half.  (If inner leaves are not soft, boil again for a few minutes) Set leaves aside and reserve ribs.

Combine remaining ingredients except 1 teaspoon of the salt, garlic and lemon juice, to make stuffing

Place some stuffing, depending on size of leaf, on wide end of cabbage leaf and roll, tucking in ends while rolling. Continue until all leaves are stuffed.

Cover bottom of saucepan with trimmed ribs. Arrange rolls side by side and alternating layers, placing garlic pieces between rolls. Sprinkle remaining salt over top, then cover with inverted plate, then add enough water to barely cover plate.

Bring to boil then cover and cook over medium-low heat for 1 hour. Add lemon juice and cook for a further 10 minutes. 

Serve hot as main course or for snacks. 

Cabbage/Vegetable Soup

Serves about 10

4 tablespoons butter

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped into small pieces

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

3 cups shredded cabbage

1/2 cup finely chopped thyme or two teaspoons dried

1 medium potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cups stewed tomatoes

4 cups beef or chicken stock

3 cups water

2 teaspoons celery seeds

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Heat butter in a saucepan, then stir-fry carrot, onion and garlic over medium heat for 8 minutes. Add cabbage and thyme, then stir-fry for further 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients then bring to boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 40 minutes or until vegetables are well done, adding more water if necessary. 

Cole Slaw Arab Style

Serves about 6

4 cups shredded cabbage

2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 cup plain yogurt

3 tablespoons vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch of cayenne

Combine cabbage, carrots and coriander leaves in a salad bowl. Thoroughly mix remaining ingredients then stir in the vegetables and serve. 

Malaysian Stir-fried Cabbage

Serves from 6 to 8

1 small cabbage, about (1 1/2 pounds)

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1/4 pound beef, cut into very small pieces

1/2 pound cooked shrimp

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 small hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Shred the cabbage then set aside.

Heat oil in a saucepan, then stir-fry beef over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add shrimp, onion, and hot pepper, then stir-fry for a further 10 minutes. Add cabbage, salt, and pepper, then stir-fry until cabbage wilts but remains somewhat crisp.  serve hot. 



Serves about 12

4 tablespoons olive oil 

2 medium onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1-pound beets, thoroughly washed and diced into 1/2-inch cubes

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 large sweet pepper, finely chopped

2 cups shredded cabbage

1 small hot pepper , seated and finely chopped

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard

6 cups water

4 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oil in a large pot, then sauté onions and garlic for 10 minutes. 

Add remaining ingredients, except lemon juice and bring to boil. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 1 hour or until vegetables are cooked. Stir in lemon juice and serve hot. 

Oriental Shrimp and Noodles

Serves about 6

1/2 pound thin noodles, any type

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1 large onion, finely chopped 

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon grated ginger root

4 cups finely shredded cabbage

2 cups cooked chopped shrimp

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup chopped green onion 

Prepare noodles according to directions on package then set aside but keep warm period

Heat oil in a frying pan then add onion, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry over medium-high heat for 3 minutes, then stir in cabbage, shrimp, soy sauce, oyster sauce, water and cayenne then stir-fry for 3 more minutes.

Place noodles on platter, then spoon frying pan contents over noodles. Garnish with green onions and serve. 

Cooked Cabbage

Serves 4

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cabbage, about 1-pound, shredded

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground caraway seed

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oil in a large frying pan, then stir-fry onion and garlic over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring a few times.  Add cabbage and water then sprinkle with salt, thyme, caraway and pepper. Cover then turn heat to very low and cook for 25 minutes. Stir in lemon juice then place on a platter and serve. 

Tofu and Cabbage/Carrot Salad

Serves about 6

1-pound extra firm tofu, diced into ½-inch cubes

5 tablespoons flour

Oil for frying

6 cups water

2 cups shredded cabbage

2 cups shredded carrots

4 tablespoons sesame seed oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper 

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

Roll tofu cubes in flour, adding more flour if necessary, then set aside. 

Place oil in a saucepan to about 1 1/2-inches deep then heat to sizzling hot. Drop in tofu cubes, then fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and place in a salad bowl.

Place water in a saucepan that bring to boil. Add cabbage and carrots and just bring to boil again then drain quickly in a strainer. Run cold water for a moment over cabbage and carrots then allow to drain for 10 minutes. 

In another small bowl combine remaining ingredients to make a dressing. Stir into tofu, along with cabbage and carrots just before serving. 

Cabbage and Meat Salad

Serves about 6

1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight then drained

1/2 cup burghul

3 cups finely chopped parsley

1 small bunch green onions, finely chopped

1/4 cup a finely chopped fresh mint

2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

1 cup lamb or beef, cut into very small pieces and well fried, then drained

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons lemon juice

A dozen large cabbage leaves, chopped

With a rolling pin, break chickpeas in half, then pick out and discard the skins. Place in a saucepan and cover with water, then bring to boil. Cook for 20 minutes over medium heat, then remove from heat and set aside in their water.

In the meantime, soak burghul in cold water for 15 minutes then drain by placing in a strainer and pushing water out by hand. Place in a salad bowl then set aside.

Remove chickpeas from water and add to burghul (do not discard water), then stir in remainder of ingredients, except cabbage leaves.

Place cabbage in the chickpeas water then boil for a few moments. Remove and drain, then stir into salad and serve immediately.