Aug 7, 2012

Hawaii Loves Cabbage

From Polish golabki (cabbage rolls), to Korean kimchi (pickled vegetables), cabbage is enjoyed around the world. China is the leading producer of cabbage, followed by India and Russia. People have eaten cabbage for more than 4,000 years, and it is considered one of the most popular vegetables in the world. Here in Hawaii, head cabbage is an important vegetable crop, ranking third, behind cucumbers and tomatoes. Because Hawaii's cuisine is heavily influenced by Asia, cabbage dishes like kimchi are very popular here. Bok choy, and napa cabbages are also regularly used in stir-fry dishes in Hawaii. There are many varieties of cabbage, but the most popular are, savoy with green leaves, Napa, which has pale green to white leaves, red cabbage, and bok choy (Chinese cabbage) with white stems and dark green leaves. 

Cabbage has been known throughout the ages, both for its nutritional values, and for its medicinal values. It has recently become recognized that it can reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer (such as colon cancer and breast cancer). Cabbage is low in calories and an excellent source of vitamin C and B, which increases metabolism, thereby helping the body burn off fat. Because of this, it is commonly used in dieting programs. When shopping for cabbage, look for brightly colored leaves with crisp, moist looking edges, fresh looking cut ends without browning, and heads that feel heavy for their size. Cabbage is actually better for you when it is eaten raw, because when it is cooked, it begins to loose its beneficial vitamins. For a crisper cabbage for salads, shred the cabbage and soak it in salted ice water for 15 minutes and then drain. Cabbage belongs to the cole crop family (Brassica oleracea), which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. Three popular cabbage varieties grown in Hawaii are kai-choy, (which is the Asian ethnic nickname for mustard cabbage), savoy and red cabbage. 
Portuguese Cabbage
Couve Tronchuda
Photo courtesy of Ecoseeds

There is also a forgotten variety called Portuguese cabbage, which once flourished in backyard gardens here in Hawaii. This cabbage, actually it's kind of a cross between cabbage and kale, is not the standard tight head variety, it has bright green, broad-leaves, that grow outward from a central stalk in a spiral fashion. It is used in Portuguese bean soup, and is the main ingredient in the national soup of Portugal, caldo verde ("green soup"). A traditional Brazilian dish called Feijoada, also uses Portuguese cabbage. Feijoada is a combination of ham hocks, linguica sausage, pork ribs, cubed beef stew meat, carne seca (an unspiced, salted, partially air-dried piece of meat), and black beans, seasoned with bay leaves and garlic. It is slowly cooked and served with collard greens, kale or Portuguese cabbage, which is boiled with garlic and chicken stock. Rice is served on the side with segments of orange. A good recipe for this dish can be found online at:

Seeds for Portuguese Cabbage and other cabbage varieties can be purchased from Redwood City Seed (650-325-7333,, or at Kitchen Garden Seeds (860-567-6086,

Grelos (Portuguese Fried Greens)
This is a traditional Portuguese recipe for a classic dish of Portuguese cabbage or collard greens fried in garlic-flavoured oil.
2 pounds Portuguese cabbage, collard greens or kale
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste

To make grelos, remove coarse stems from greens and wash and dry them. Roll washed Portuguese cabbage or collard green leaves into a tight cylinder and cut very thinly across the grain. Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan. Saute 3 minced garlic cloves over low heat until golden 10-12 minutes, add cabbage and stir-fry 2-3 minutes over high heat, just until greens wilt and are nicely glossed with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss again and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately. Note: Some recipes call for thinly sliced onion, which would be sauteed with the garlic. If you use kale, you need to cook it longer and add 1/2 cup or so of boiling water or chicken broth with the vegetable, so it cooks through. Makes 4-6 servings.

Baby Bok Choy with Toasted Sesame Seeds
2 baby bok choy
sesame oil
sesame seeds

Vertically slice 2 baby bok choy in half. Mix the 4 halves in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, place face down in a small roasting dish covered with aluminum foil. Place this in the oven, cooking at 300˚F for 1/2 hour. Remove the aluminum foil the last 10 minutes and turn the vegetables over. Toast 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes to release their flavor. Stir to be sure the seeds do not burn. Sprinkle over the bok choy and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Steamed Chinese Cabbage Wraps
8 large cabbage leaves
3 wood ear/tree fungus, soaked in warm water
3 dried black mushrooms, soaked in warm water
2 cups cooked dark chicken meat, sliced thin
1 shredded carrot
3 shredded water chestnuts
2 Tablespoons shredded ham (optional)
2 cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon corn oil
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Boil cabbage leaves a minute to soften. Soak the mushrooms and wood ears separately, each for thwenty minutes in warm water. Discard the stems and shred them. Bring stock to a boil, lower heat and simmer. Parboil the chicken in the stock for ten minutes. Remove the meat, let cool, and shred it. Keep the soup for later use. Heat a wok, add oil and stir-fry the mushrooms and tree/wood ear fungus until fragrant. Add carrots, water chestnuts, and ham and cook until any liquid has evaporated. Mix in shredded chicken and thicken with cornstarch mixed with cold water. Divide the mixture into eight equal portions and roll each into a cabbage leaf. Then steam them over high heat for five minutes, remove, and serve. Makes 8 servings.

Cabbage, Green Chilies, and Coconut
1 small green cabbage, about one and a quarter pounds
4 fresh green chili peppers
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 Tablespoons corn or canola oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 hot red chili pepper, halved
a few curry leaves (optional)
3/4 cup freshly grated coconut

Cut the cabbage in half. Cut out the thick core and cut the leaves finely, as you would for coleslaw. A food processor will do this job very well. Place the shredded cabbage in a colander, rinse it under running water, and drain. Cut the green chili peppers into thin strips and combine them with the cabbage, then sprinkle the salt and turmeric over the shredded cabbage, and mix well. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed wok or medium to large skillet and add mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the red pepper, curry leaves, and cabbage, and stir-fry for a two or three minutes. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle a tablespoon of water over the cabbage and cover the pan. After two minutes, remove the cover and stir gently. Sauté cabbage for five to eight minutes more, stirring occasionally. When the cabbage is well cooked, sprinkle the grated coconut on top and stir gently, then serve when hot. Makes 6-8 servings.

Pineapple Cabbage Salad
1 pound Napa cabbage
1 cup celery chopped
1 green pepper cut into strips
1 red pepper cut into strips
1 cup fresh pineapple or one 8.25 can pineapple chunks
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salad herbs

Dressing Ingredients:
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons milk

Put cabbage in large bowl. Add celery, green peppers, red peppers, pineapple, pecans, salt, pepper and herbs. Mix yogurt, sour cream and milk together until consistency of heavy cream. Pour over salad right before serving. Makes 6 servings.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Cabbage recipes sound delicious... gives me an idea for a much needed new twist on the usual coleslaw...thanks for the creative recipes...