5 Healthy, Hearty Recipes with Cabbage

Healthy and flavorful, cabbage adds bite to fish tacos, red cabbage soup, and classic favorites like coleslaw and Reubens.

February 1, 2010

Use your head: Cabbage adds a tasty bite to these fish tacos.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Whether you opt for pale-green cabbage or the purplish red variety—or even if you go for wrinkly Savoy or barrel-shaped Napa—you’re making a flavorful and healthy choice when you try our recipes for cabbage. The vegetable is full of fiber (Savoy has the most, at 4 grams per cup) and is an excellent source of vitamins C and K. It’s also packed with phytonutrients, including beta-carotene and sulforaphane. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that veggies in the cabbage family may lessen heart inflammation that can lead to arterial blockage. And eating an average of four weekly servings of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage reduced the risk of dying from any disease by 26 percent among 6,100 people studied for 28 years.


As for the sulforaphane that’s found in cabbage, it reduces your risk of cancer by increasing your body's production of enzymes that fight cell-damaging free radicals. Stanford University research indicates that sulforaphane increases your levels of these cancer-fighting enzymes more than any other phytonutrient.

Our mix of recipes for cabbage includes both cooked and uncooked forms of the vegetable. Eat this cancer-fighter cooked, but do enjoy it raw when you can; people who ate uncooked cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower a minimum of three times per month were 40 percent less likely to develop bladder cancer when compared to those who ate them less frequently, according to scientists at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY. And there’s good news for sauerkraut lovers: Fermenting cabbage, which is already rich in phytochemicals, releases isothiocyanates, compounds that are thought to protect cells from cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Read on to see tips for buying and prepping cabbage, plus recipes like Rich and Creamy Coleslaw and Hearty Red Cabbage Soup.

Opt for organic cabbage. Not only is it better for the environment—organic farming doesn't dump toxic chemicals into the water and soil, and it traps carbon that could contribute to global warming—it’s also better for your health. You’ll avoid ingesting unhealthy pesticides, and you’ll benefit from more nutrients. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reviewed 41 published studies comparing the nutritional value of conventionally grown and organically grown veggies, fruits, and grains, and concluded that there organic crops contain significantly more of several nutrients. According to the study review, five servings of organically grown vegetables, such as cabbage, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and potatoes, provide an adequate allowance of vitamin C, while the same number of servings of conventionally grown vegetables do not.

When selecting cabbage, choose a firm, heavy head with fresh-looking, uniformly colored leaves. Break a leaf in half; you should hear a crunch. If it’s not crisp, pass it up. Store cabbage in the fridge for about a week. For easy preparation, cut the cabbage in half and core it, then thinly slice it crosswise to shred the leaves. To steam or boil cabbage, cut it into wedges, leaving some of the center core attached to the sections to keep it from falling apart during cooking. It’s also great sliced thinly and sautéed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.

For both classic and creative cabbage ideas, look no further than this array of choices from the Rodale Recipe Finder.

#1: Rich and Creamy Coleslaw. Fans of creamy coleslaw will love this lighter recipe made with nonfat plain yogurt and nonfat sour cream. For a zingy, noncreamy salad, try Cabbage Salad with Apples, Lime, and Ginger.

#2: Hearty Red Cabbage Soup. This comforting soup, a great warmer on a cold winter day, has added protein thanks to its use of Great Northern beans.

#3: The New Classic Reuben. Sauerkraut’s an integral part of a Reuben, of course; here’s a lightened-up version of the classic sandwich that maintains the satisfying taste. For another cabbage-topped finger-food option, make Speedy Fish Tacos.

#4: Sweet and Sour Cabbage Sauté. This side dish would go nicely with short ribs or other beefy entrées, or even a burger.

#5: Pork Chops Baked with Cabbage and Cream. Pork and sauerkraut is a classic combination. Try this creamy twist on tradition, or stick with the tried-and-true version. This recipe provides all the flavors of stuffed cabbage rolls with much less work. For vegetarian versions, check out these cabbage rolls or this meatless cabbage roll casserole.