The beauty of brassicas

From the flamboyancy of the red cabbage, to conical trumpets of joy, or crinkle-leaved beauties – there’s a lot more to cabbage than meets the eye, writes chef James Evans.

Cabbage, like a lot of the classic staple vegetables, has a bit of an undeserved reputation.

A “boring old cabbage” sums up popular opinion of what should be considered the crown of the allotment. In fact, the numerous varieties, each bringing their own flavour and textural nuances, should be the subject of celebration. Here is a rough and ready guide to get your excitement peaking in time for cabbage season – which just so happens to be all year round.

Cabbage can be eaten raw, slow-cooked, shredded or stir fried. 

So what’s so good about cabbage? Absolutely packed full of the good stuff, rumours abound about its cancer-beating properties, what has been proven is that it is a fantastic anti-inflammatory – surely whacking it straight up there with the superfoods. They can be eaten at any point between completely raw and carefully nurtured by a slow cooker. They also last for absolutely ages if carefully stored in cool conditions. If fermented, such as sauerkraut or kimchi, they can last for years.

White cabbage

These tough, tightly packed cannonballs are readily available. The tough leaves make this variety excellent for slow cooking, especially in a heavy stock packed full of flavour, the texture turns into a melt-in-your-mouth buttery joy. They are also excellent for making sauerkraut, although the initial process of massaging the liquid out may test your enthusiasm (watch my handy Veg Hack video for sauerkraut).

Red cabbage

Red cabbage
‘The flamboyant attention-seeker’

If I could only make coleslaw out of one variety for the rest of my life (god forbid!) it would most certainly be the red cabbage. More purple than red, this flamboyant, attention-seeker brings not only theatrics in its colour but also an added layer of sweetness that is top notch in coleslaw. Try shredding and then soaking for a few hours in either red wine vinegar or balsamic before turning into coleslaw, this really helps with the texture and accentuates that beautiful flavour.

Savoy and January King

January King
January King: A regal brassica

These crinkle-leafed beauties are absolute super stars. One has a chain of hotels named after it and the second has an entire month named after its prowess (probably). The leaves are slightly softer than other varieties, which means that they are perfect for the quick cook. Thinly shred and add to stir-fries or simply steam and serve with butter and grated nutmeg.

Pointed cabbage

Pointed cabbage
‘A conical trumpet of joy’

This conical trumpet of joy is a hybrid variety that combines the slightly thicker leaf of the white, with the slightly less dense compactness of the Savoy. They are perfect for cooking whole, and they are also my favourite British variety for making kimchi. Cut into strips with the core intact, they hold together and look beautiful once fermented in a chilli, garlic and ginger paste.


Leave a Reply

In case you missed it

Read the latest edition of Wicked Leeks online

Issue 12: Fairness and five years.

Learn more

About us

Find out more about Wicked Leeks and our publisher, organic veg box company Riverford.

Learn more