August 11, 2023

Today’s Main Ingredient is cabbage!
Our host Mikki Uzupes chats chrunchy cabbage with organic farmer Greg Swartz of Willow Wisp Organic Farm in Damascus PA, and foodie Lori Fogg who writes the Pennsylvania-based food blog A Coal Cracker in the Kitchen. Nutritionist Carol Kneier shares the surprising health benefits of eating cabbage (hint: really low calories).

For a bunch of great extra growing and cooking hints, listen to Mikki’s Extras at the bottom of this page.
Cabbage Estonia

About Cabbage

All cabbages are members of the Brassica family. The leaves of some are loose, but other varieties form compact, dense heads that may be round, flat, pointed, or elongated; may have smooth or curly leaves; and come in a range of colors from shades of green-white to deep red-purple.

The Dutch Head variety (pictured above) is our standard everyday cabbage with green to pale green outer leaves, fading to white interior), but other types of cabbages include Savoy, Napa, red cabbage, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts:

Caraflex CabbageCaraflex cabbage has a pointed head.

Savoy CabbageSavoy or curly cabbage is a loose-leaf, oblong cabbage, more tender and with a more delicate flavor than standard head cabbage.

Asian Brassicas come in a couple of cultivar groups:
Napa cabbages(1) Napa cabbage with an oval, football-like shape, familiarly known as Chinese cabbage, has sweeter more tender leaves than green and red cabbages; and

Pak choi, also spelled Bok choy(2) bok choy (also spelled pak choi), which has loose, green leaves that fan out from a bulging central stalk.

Brussels sprouts (4103982312) (2)Brussels sprouts are a miniature cousin of cabbage that originated in Belgium (thus its name). Brussels sprouts are best roasted and rarely eaten raw.

Growing Cabbage

Cabbage can be challenging to grow for the beginning gardener if you don’t have the right conditions; it exclusively likes cool temperatures, and it can be a magnet for some garden pests.

Preparing the Soil
• Mix in aged manure and/or compost in advance of planting.
• Soil should be well-draining to avoid roots standing in water, which causes the heads to split or rot.

Traditionally, cabbage seeds were planted on St. Patrick’s Day in northern climate zones.
• If starting seeds indoors for a summer harvest, sow 1/4 inch deep 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost.
• Before planting the seedlings outdoors, “harden off” the plants over the course of a week to acclimatize indoor-sown plants to outdoor conditions. [See How to Harden Off Plants from the Old Farmer’s Almanac]
• Plant where you have not grown cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, rutabaga, or Brussels sprouts during the last four years. But feel free to plant near beans and cucumbers as companions.
Cabbage plant• Transplant outdoors on a cloudy afternoon 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date.
• The optimum soil temperature for good growth is 60 to 65° F. Young plants exposed to temperatures below 45°F for a period of time may bolt or form loose heads. Cover plants if cold weather is expected.
• Plant seedlings 12 to 24 inches apart in rows, depending on the size of head desired. The closer you plant, the smaller the cabbage heads.
• For a fall-harvest crop, plant directly in soil outdoors in mid- to late-summer, and when seedlings reach about 5 inches, thin to desired spacing between them.
• Practice crop rotation to avoid a buildup of soil-borne diseases.

• Mulch thickly to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.
• Water 2 inches per square foot per week.
• Fertilize 2 weeks after transplanting with a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer. Cabbage is a heavy feeder; it quickly depletes the soil of required nutrients.
• Three weeks later, add a nitrogen-rich fertilizer; cabbage needs nitrogen in the early stages.

Rows of cabbage (49200065236)• To produce 1- to 3-pound heads, figure on about 70 days to maturity for most green cabbage varieties.
• Harvest when heads reach desired size and are firm. Mature heads left on the stem may split.
• To harvest, cut each cabbage head at its base with a sharp knife. Remove any yellow leaves, but retain loose green leaves, as they will provide protection in storage. Then, immediately bring harvested heads indoors or place it in shade. Alternatively, pull up the plant (roots and all) and hang it in a moist cellar that reaches near-freezing temperatures.
• After harvesting, remove the entire stem and root system from the soil to prevent disease.
• Compost healthy plants only; destroy any with pest infestations.

Note: Storage cabbages, in proper root-cellar conditions, will keep for up to 3-4 months, although over time they lose some of their nutritional value. Here’s video on root cellars from Alaska’s Cooperative Extension:

Here’s an old-time technique to get the most out of your cabbage crop: In the fall, harvest the entire cabbage plant—stems, head, and roots—and store the roots in a root cellar through winter. As soon as the ground has thawed in spring, plant the roots outdoors. Soon, fresh sprouts will form, which can be eaten alone or added to soups, salads, or a dish of your choice. These replanted cabbages won’t produce full heads, but they should go to seed by the end of summer, providing next year’s round of cabbage seeds. Note: This can also be done indoors on a windowsill in mid to late winter; keep roots damp and sprouts should form.

In the Kitchen

Cabbage is a staple among cultures the world over, and in most cold-climate countries cabbage is enjoyed and prepared in a great number of ways: sauerkraut, coleslaw, and stuffed cabbage in Europe, colcannon from Ireland, kimchi from Korea, to name only a few.

Yield: One smallish cabbage (1 1/2 pounds) yields 6 to 8 cups shredded or chopped cabbage and 4 to 6 cups cooked, enough for 4 servings.

Storage: Wrapped lightly in plastic, cabbage can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, however its nutritional value diminishes over time. Make sure it is dry before storing.

Use cabbage raw, cooked, or preserved:
Chopping cabbage (5196913363)Raw: Shredded for salads and making coleslaw or similar recipes.
Cooked: Shredded and sautéed; sliced into wide ribbons or chopped and added to soups and stews; cored, quartered and braised, boiled, or steamed.
Preserved: Pickled or fermented
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, its leaves shredded, layered with salt and left to ferment. [See how to make sauerkraut: Let’s Preserve: Fermentation – Sauerkraut and Pickles from Penn State University]

• Always cook cabbage in a nonreactive pan.
• Long cooking can give cabbage its sulfuric smell. Briefer cooking keeps cabbage sweet and tender.
• If boiling cabbage, drop a piece of bread, a sprig of parsley, or walnuts (shell on) into the cooking water; they will help absorb the cabbage’s unpleasant odor. And a little vinegar or lemon juice in the cooking water will help keep cabbage’s color.
• Red cabbage should be cut with a stainless-steel knife, or it will turn a strange blue color.
• Red cabbage takes longer to cook than white cabbage. Cook it with an acidic ingredient like an apple or a little wine.

Cooking Times
There are two ways to cook cabbage, the more traditional way, long and slow (think soups, stews, and braised, stuffed cabbage rolls) vs. the more modern view, short and fast (think sautés and stir fries). Each has its place.
The modern view holds that shorter cooking times allow cabbage’s mild, sweet flavor to shine, while longer, slower cooking produces both a stronger taste and smell. Increasing cabbage’s cooking time by just 2 minutes—from 5 to 7 minutes—doubles the amount of hydrogen sulfide gas (the smell of rotten eggs) it produces.

Using Sauerkraut

Belarusian-Russian Sauerkraut-2• Eating sauerkraut raw (with still active fermentation) is the best/only way to get its probiotic benefits.
• Sauerkraut can be braised with meat or without… in its own brine or not… on top of the stove or in the oven. Potential braising liquids include beef broth, beer or wine, cider or apple juice.

• It’s a matter of personal taste whether sauerkraut should be rinsed before eating or cooking. Most sauerkraut does not need to be drained before (except perhaps homemade, which can be easily over salted). However, if you want a less sour, milder flavor, feel free to drain and rinse it in cold water, and then drain and squeeze out as much water as possible before proceeding to your recipe.
• Potential additions and seasonings include dill seed, caraway seed, juniper berries, apple chunks, a fennel bulb sliced, celery root (celeriac) or celery diced, carrot diced, garlic minced. Note: For best results, maintain a ratio of at least 75% sauerkraut when you’re adding extra ingredients.
• Try these websites for recipes that use sauerkraut:
The Best Sauerkraut Recipes from All Around Europe (from

Stuffing Cabbage

Stuffed cabbage (minced meat and rice) in tomato sauceTo stuff cabbage leaves it’s necessary for them to be pliable enough to bend and roll around the filling of your choice. Here are three methods to accomplish this:

  1. The traditional way is to blanch the whole head of cabbage. This loosens individual leaves one at a time to pulling them away from the head and makes them bendable. See Lori Fogg’s blog post for a tutorial with pictures for how to use this method.
  2. Another way is to freeze the whole head of cabbage; once you defrost it the leaves will peel off easily. For more info:
  3. A third way is to use the microwave oven. See
    Caution: Cover the cabbage, or any food, in a microwavable dish with a lid, and do not use plastic wrap as some websites advise. [“Do not use foam trays and plastic wraps in the microwave because they are not heat stable at high temperatures. Melting or warping from the heat of the food may cause harmful chemicals to migrate into it.” | USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service]


Cabbage Threads with Butter Crumbs – serves 4
1 small head cabbage
4 Tablespoons butter
1 to 2 teaspoons caraway seeds, crushed (optional)
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
3 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 teaspoons sugar
Step 1 – Remove outer leaves from the cabbage head. Rinse, then slice in half, and remove the core. Finely slice the cabbage (like for slaw) to make 6 to 8 cups.

Step 2 – Melt butter in a skillet. Stir in the caraway seeds, if using. Add breadcrumbs and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned.

Step 3 – Bring a large pot of water with sugar and remaining salt to a boil. Add the cabbage. Cook for 4 minutes. Drain well.

Step 4 – Stir the cabbage into the skillet with the crumbs. Reheat for just 2 minutes and pour into a serving dish. Taste and add salt if necessary. Serve hot.

Download Recipe

Haluski with Cabbage and Onions
“Halušky” refers to the thick, soft dumplings traditionally used in the dish, but it has now become accepted to use halušky to refer to the complete dish, which can feature dumplings or noodles served with cabbage and onions.
Credit: Recipe from the American Carpatho-Russian Cookbook, 1968, adapted by Lori Fogg and available on her blog.
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 medium head cabbage, about 2 pounds, cored
2 large white or yellow onions
1 stick (1/4 pound> butter, or as needed
Step 1 – To Make the Dumplings: Mix flour, eggs, salt and water. Beat well until you have a medium stiff dough. Place dough on a plate and drop individual spoonfuls into a pot of boiling salted water. Cook for 5-7 minutes. Strain and rinse with cold water.

Step 2 – To prepare the onions and cabbage: Slice the onions and cut the cabbage in the same fashion. Melt butter in skillet, then add the onions and cabbage. Cook over medium heat for approximately 30 minutes, or until browned/caramelized.

Step 3 – Add the cooked dumplings to the cabbage mixture. Mix well and serve hot.
Download Recipe

Russian Cabbage and Sauerkraut Soup (Schi) – serves 6
This is a vegetarian take on a popular Russian soup, called “schi.” For a richer flavor, substitute beef broth.
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, halved
1 pound sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1 small green or Savoy cabbage, shredded
6 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth (optional)
Salt and pepper
1 bunch fresh dill (if available), chopped for garnish
Step 1 – Sauté onion in oil until translucent, about 5 minutes over medium heat.

Step 2 – Add sliced celery, diced carrot, diced parsnip, and garlic, and cook slowly 10 minutes.

Step 3 – Add sauerkraut and cabbage and cook until the cabbage wilts.

Step 4 – Add vegetable stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil then lower to simmer and cook covered 20 minutes.

Step 5 – Add sugar, vinegar, wine (if using), and salt & pepper. Simmer, covered for 20 minutes. Stir in fresh dill just before serving.

Download Recipe

Braised Sweet & Sour Cabbage – serves 4
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced paper thin
4 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1 Tablespoon sugar, or more to taste
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar, or more to taste
Salt and pepper
Step 1 – Combine oil and garlic in a large, deep skillet and heat over medium heat until garlic begins to sizzle, about 1 minute.

Step 2 – Add the cabbage all at once and stir until coated with oil. Cover and cook for 3 minutes, or just until the cabbage begins to wilt.

Step 3 – Turn the heat to high and sprinkle with sugar and vinegar. Stir to coat. Adjust the seasonings and serve.
Download Recipe

Cabbage and Leeks – serves 6
PREPARATION: About 55 Minutes
2 medium cabbages (each about 2 ½ pounds) with outer leaves
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups cleaned, chopped leek, white part only (4 to 5 medium leeks, depending on their size)
2 cups chicken broth
Step 1 – Remove outer leaves from cabbages and set aside. Cut each cabbage in half through the stem end. Cut
out and discard center cores. Cut cabbage into ¼-to-½-inch-wide strips.

Step 2 – Heat butter in a large, heavy skillet (or 2 medium skillets) over medium heat.

Step 3 – Add leeks and sauté,
stirring constantly, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes, add cabbage and cook, stirring, until softened 6 to 8

Step 4 – Add broth, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, stirring often until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes. (Cabbage can be prepared 2 hours ahead to this point. Cool, cover loosely with foil and leave at cool room temperature. Reheat over medium heat, stiffing constantly.)

Step 5 – About 1 minute before cabbage is done, place reserved cabbage leaves over the mixture in skillet(s) for about 1 minute, or until they turn bright green; watch carefully. Remove leaves and set aside. Stir in cheese.

Step 6 – Taste and add more salt if needed.

Step 7 – To serve, arrange blanched cabbage please on a serving platter. Mound cooked cabbage on top.

Variation: – You can make this dish nice and spicy by adding about ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes when you add the chicken broth and salt in the second step of the recipe.
Download Recipe

Also try: Apple Cider-Braised Cabbage | Food and Wine.

Podcast Extra

Organic farmer Greg shares lots of extra on growing cabbage, and foodie Lori shares some cabbage cooking hints and techniques.

All Podcasts

Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:

Greater Pike Community Foundation
Overlook Estate Foundation
Wayne-Pike Farm Bureau

Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.

• About Today’s Main Ingredient

• Host and Guest Bios

• Share your favorite ingredient on our Facebook page

• Let us know what you think on Twitter

All Podcasts