Brilliantly refreshing after an eternity of mixed leaves, spring cabbage salad is perfect with fish, great with chicken and an absolute must for a barbecue.
Why we don’t like cabbage
Cabbage is such a disdained vegetable in Britain that even the name looks faintly repulsive. Or perhaps the name itself is the reason for the loathing: ‘'Tis but thy name that is my enemy’.
Rather an insult to be called ‘cabbage’, at least in the English language, though the French are indulgent towards the poor vegetable calling their sweethearts ‘mon petit choux’, my little cabbage.
But also the cooking treatment dished out to cabbage over the centuries probably didn’t help improve the perception.
It’s boiled for ever until it smells horrible. It is mashed with potatoes to conceal its presence (and smell) in colcannon.
Or else it gets chopped roughly and smothered with gloopy mayo as coleslaw, to pretend chippies are selling a little bit of healthy.
Cabbage is healthy
Now this might be a fact difficult to believe but cabbage appears to contain more vitamin C than oranges. It’s also rich in vitamin K and antioxidants.
It is full of fibre and it might be helpful to lower LDL cholesterol levels. Plus it’s low in calories, hence the once-famed cabbage soup diet.
Eat more cabbage! Only the name is so off-putting…
Call it by another name
But I have a solution: we can prepare it using a basic fermentation method and call it Sauerkraut*, kimchi, surkål, choucroute or tsukemono.
Sounds better? Cabbage by any other name would smell as foul? It won’t – and it will taste better too when very lightly fermented.
Everyone knows these days about gut health and the importance of eating plenty fermented foods to keep friendly bacteria in our gut happy.
Full-on fermentation might be daunting though, with visions of barrelfuls of cabbage and the pong of brine. It isn’t, and it’s perfectly feasible to make just one small jar of white or red sauerkraut, or kimchi as my recipes show.
But even a ten-minute fermentation is going to both be beneficial to digestive health, as well as make the cabbage much tastier.
How to make the spring cabbage salad
Spring cabbage is also called pointed or sweetheart cabbage and it’s easily told apart from the white round hammerhead winter cabbage. It’s deeper green, more loosely packed, with a smaller core.
It needs to be shredded quite finely for the salad, so the salt can work its magic better on it in a shorter time.
Don’t oversalt it thinking the more the better the fermentation, or you’ll end up with unpleasantly salty salad.
It’s important to mix it well with the salt to distribute it evenly, then press the cabbage down and weigh it down with a small plate, mimicking the packing down cabbage for sauerkraut in tubs or jars.
After only ten minutes it will have reduced, wilted and released juice, which is the brine that would ferment it properly, should we leave it like this for a few days. Now though it needs to be drained by squeezing out the liquid as much you can by small handfuls of cabbage.
There’s no need to rinse it unless you taste a strand and realise you’ve dropped in a cellarful of salt.
Herbs and aromatics to add to the salad are simple: lots of green, lots of acidity, some sweetness and some oil. I particularly love the combination of fresh dill and mint with cabbage.
How to serve cabbage salad
It is absolutely genius with grilled or pan-fried fish. On most occasions it can replace boring old lettuce or mixed leaves, except with very strongly flavoured dishes like chilli or curry.
It’s lovely as garnish for burgers and tacos, and it’s my absolute staple at all barbecues, paired with potato salad.
More cabbage recipes
Sauerkraut is cabbage properly fermented, for at least a week, and it’s as gorgeous as it’s healthy.
If you want to cook cabbage, don’t ever boil it: quickly stir fry it instead, with a tomato perhaps.
Asian cuisines appreciate cabbage – here it is, with Vietnamese fish sauce dressing and prawns over a rice bowl.
More green side salad recipes
Slaw is not just cabbage: have you ever tried kohlrabi slaw? That excellent vegetable is lamentably little known in the UK.
And just like cabbage or asparagus, leeks are as nice raw as they are cooked. Leek slaw, thinly sliced, with cucumber and radish for company and the lightest mayonnaise dressing.
Shaved Brussels sprout salad with toasted walnuts and Manchego cheese. Feed it to a sworn Brussels hater and see what happens.
* Or ‘liberty cabbage’ as it used to be called in times when Germany was not the world’s most favourite nation