Cabbage

cabbage

The humble cabbage has had a fair bit of bad press in recent years - overcooked watery cabbage for school dinners hasn't helped either. Stir-frying has become a popular and quick way of retaining natural crisp flavours as well as nutrients.

WHICH ONE?

There are so many varieties to choose from - look for fresh leaves with no sign of limpness, and heads which are firm and unbroken.

SPRING GREENS

You can buy spring greens all year round, their season, as the name suggests, is in early spring. Their tender leaves make them ideal for stir fries and soups - and they have the added bonus of not having any woody core. They're also good steamed.

SAVOY CABBAGE

The most prized of cabbages, its crinkly leaves, bottle-green colour and mild flavour make it an attractive choice as an accompaniment vegetable. You can also stuff the outer leaves and bake them - they're especially good when coated in herby tomato sauce. Don't forget to cut away the tough core before using.

RED CABBAGE

A favourite accompaniment to rich meats and pork, red cabbage works well with fruit - apples, oranges and dried fruit. When blanched in boiling water, its leaves and cooking water turn an inky blue which reverts back to maroon after a little vinegar is added. Many recipes feature vinegar to sharpen as well as sugar to sweeten.

POINTED CABBAGE

Close-textured, this variety comes into its own during spring, but is imported from the Mediterranean through the year. Look for perky leaves.

WHITE OR DUTCH CABBAGE

Notable for its crisp texture, this is a great choice for tossing into coleslaw. In Germany, it's made into Sauerkraut (a spiced fermented preserve)

CAVOLO NERO

An Italian cabbage, similar to Savoy cabbage, but with a more pronounced, peppery flavour.

CHINESE LEAVES

Although not a member of European varieties, it's often used in the same way as regular cabbage. Pale green, with narrow leaves, it has a crisp texture and mild flavour - well-suited for salads and crunchy stir-fries. Remove the thick central stem before using.

CURLY KALE

Best during the winter months, its ruffled leaves, vibrant colour and full-flavour make it a great substitute for spinach leaves and regular cabbage varieties. Try stir-frying it with garlic, chillies and a dash of soy sauce. Instead of blanching, try wilting the leaves in a saucepan with a nut of butter.

IN THE KITCHEN

When blanching cabbage, take a large pan of salted water and bring it to a fast boil, Tip in the chopped cabbage while still keeping the heat high. Keep an eye on the pan - the cabbage should cook within 3-4 minutes and have a bite to it. Drain well, before tossing with melted butter.

TOP TIPS

Sauerkraut - fermented cabbage (a national German dish), and Korean kim chee - pickled cabbage, are two popular accompaniments.

Sausages, apples and onions combine well with cabbage. The Alsace region in France is well-known for combining pork and white wine with cabbage.