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Preparing and Cooking Cabbage

Prepare and cook cabbage

Preparing Cabbage


Do not slice the cabbage until you are ready to use it; slicing tears cabbage cells and releases the enzyme that hastens the oxidation and destruction of vitamin C.


If you plan to serve cooked green or red cabbage in wedges, don't cut out the inner core that hold the leaves together.


To separate the leaves for stuffing, immerse the entire head in boiling water for a few minutes, then lift it out and let it drain until it is cool enough to handle comfortably. The leaves should pull away easily. If not, put the cabbage back into the hot water for a few minutes.


What Happens When You Cook Cabbage


Cabbage contains mustard oils (isothiocyanates) that break down into a variety of smelly sulfur compounds (including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia) when the cabbage is heated, a reaction that occurs more strongly in aluminum pots. The longer you cook the cabbage, the more smelly the compounds will be. Adding a slice of bread to the cooking water may lessen the odor. Keeping a lid on the pot will stop the smelly molecules from floating off into the air, but it will also accelerate the chemical reaction that turns cooked green cabbage drab.


Chlorophyll, the pigment that makes green vegetables green, is sensitive to acids. When you heat green cabbage, the chlorophyll in its leaves reacts chemically with acids in the cabbage or in the cooking water to form pheophytin, which is brown. The pheophytin gives the cooked cabbage its olive color.


To keep cooked green cabbage green, you have to reduce the interaction between the chlorophyll and the acids. One way to do this is to cook the cabbage in a large quantity of water, so the acids will be diluted, but this increases the loss of vitamin C.* Another alternative is to leave the lid off the pot so that the volatile acids can float off into the air, but this allows the smelly sulfur compounds to escape too. The best way may be to steam the cabbage very quickly in very little water so that it keeps its vitamin C and cooks before there is time for the chlorophyll/acid reaction to occur.


Red cabbage is colored with red anthocyanins, pigments that turn redder in acids (lemon juice, vinegar) and blue purple in bases (alkaline chemicals such as baking soda). To keep the cabbage red, make sweet-and-sour cabbage. But be careful not to make it in an iron or aluminum pot, since vinegar (which contains tannins) will react with these metals to create dark pigments that discolor both the pot and the vegetable. Glass, stainless-steel, or enameled pots do not produce this reaction.


How Other Kinds of Processing Affect Cabbage


Pickling. Sauerkraut is a fermented and pickled produce made by immersing cabbage in a salt solution strong enough to kill off pathological bacteria but allow beneficial ones to survive, breaking down proteins in the cabbage and producing the acid that gives sauerkraut its distinctive flavor. Sauerkraut contains more than thirty-seven times as much sodium as fresh cabbage (661 mg sodium/100 grams canned sauerkraut with liquid) but only one third the vitamin C and one-seventh the vitamin A.


* According to USDA, if you cook three cups of cabbage in one cup of water you will lose only 10 percent of the vitamin C; reverse the ratio to four times as much water as cabbage and you will lose about 50 percent of the vitamin C. Cabbage will lose as much as 25 percent of its vitamin C if you cook it in water that is cold when you start. As it boils, water releases oxygen that would otherwise destroy vitamin C, so you can cut the vitamin loss dramatically simply by letting the water boil for sixty seconds before adding the cabbage.

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