Key Ingredient

Shan Correa

Red Cabbage

In "The Devil's Dictionary," Ambrose Bierce defines cabbage as "a familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and as wise as a man's head."

The basics: Bierce knew his cabbage and his Latin -- red cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable of the capitata group, called that because of its capita, or head shape. Like its many relatives in the Brassica oleracea family (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.), it has been around for centuries, introduced to much of Europe by the Celts.

Though ancient, cabbages get little respect. But red cabbage (actually magenta-purple-red) is being rediscovered by today's chefs.

This is as it should be. Red cabbage is a work of natural art. Cut a wedge of this striking vegetable and you'll see more white than red in its layers. Only the leaves' "skins," their top cell layer, are red, but that's enough to make it infinitely more attractive than its green cousins.

Together, red and green cabbages make beautiful salads, slaws and pickles, and a spinach/red cabbage salad with blue cheese and walnuts is pretty as a picture.

Red cabbage contains vitamins C and A, very few calories, and no fat whatsoever.

Selecting: Choose cabbage with colorful, fresh-looking leaves. The heads should be compact and heavy.

Storing: In Hawaii, it's best to refrigerate; the cabbage will be useable for at least two to three weeks.

Uses: Planning your own little Oktoberfest? Any of the many German Red Cabbage or Braised Red Cabbage recipes should serve you well. Most involve sautˇing the cored and shredded cabbage briefly, then braising it in a sweet-sour liquid.

Most traditional German recipes use bacon fat to sautˇ cabbage, chopped tart apples and onions. Wine or cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper and caraway seeds are added before simmering anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.

If you'd rather someone else did the cooking, chef Andreas Knapp at the Chef's Table makes a distinctive Austrian version of braised red cabbage, available all year. Pair it with roast duck, sausages or, during the holidays, festive Christmas goose.

Where to buy: Red cabbages are finally getting some respect, so odds are good you'll find them in your favorite market, averaging about $1.10 a pound.

Shan Correa is a free-lance food writer.
Contact her at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza,
Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or e-mail her at features@starbulletin.com


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