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Talk of Cabbages and Kings

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

Well now.  Cabbages, you may say, are not kings. They are not princely like asparagus or samphire. Not as regal as Calabrese or Purple Sprouting Broccoli ….

Broccoli – now I must stop you there, for all the broccolis are from the same family of cruciferous vegetables as cabbages.

So why does broccoli have such a good reputation whilst cabbage doesn’t?  It is just as healthy, it is just as much a “supervegetable” as broccoli.  All cruciferous vegetables (the brassica family, if you like) are full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.  All are linked to preventing some forms of cancer and heart disease.

Do you still have a remembrance from school or hospital of the smell of cabbage cooking? The smell that you started to smell at about 11.30 when dinner wouldn’t be til about 1 o’clock?  Is that what is putting you off? Well it is about time that you learnt how delicious cabbage can be when you cook it properly.

I am deeply fond of dark green cabbages of all kinds at this time of year.  I like them raw and cooked; here are some of my favourite ways to prepare them:

Brussels Sprouts:

Firstly you want to know that your sprouts are fresh and lively. If you can, buy them on the stalk, they will keep firmer and fresher for much longer.  Try the red ones when you find them, they have a lovely flavour, slightly less bitter than ordinary green sprouts.

Red Brussels Sprouts

Snap them from the stalk when you want to cook them, lightly trim the base and remove any yellowing leaves from the sides.  Then cook them in salted boiling water for between 6 and 8 minutes, or until you take one out and a knife cuts through without squeaking.   If they are quite large ones, then I cut them in half, I don’t want to have to overcook the outside in order to have the inside cooked through.


Curly Kale

Curly Kale



Excellent dark green curly cabbage, but not easy to find in supermarkets other than ready chopped. This is a pest, as the supermarkets chop their Kale complete with the inedible stalks, which I find tedious (but necessary) to pick out one by one. Supermarkets!! Please sell FRESH unchopped Kale! Then I can cut the stalk out all in one piece, and slice the kale nicely leaving all the hard horrible pieces behind. (Rant over).


kale stalks

Anyway, once you have picked out all the hard stalky bits, and pulled any hard stalky bits off the nice leafy pieces, you will have a pile of bright green cabbage looking rather like seaweed.  If you have been lucky and have bought your Kale on the ribs, then fold it in half and slice down next to the rib so that you just have the leafy part, then roll this up and slice it fairly coarsely. Give it a good wash, and throw into fiercely boiling water. Once the water has come back to the boil, give it no more than a minute or two and drain thoroughly.

This method I use for all other kale.  You may find  Cavolo Nero in the supermarket, but will probably only find other kales at a farmer’s market, or directly from a grower.   Cavolo Nero has lovely tender ribs, you don’t need to take these out, just trim the base of the leaf then slice to a medium thickness.


Cavolo Nero


All kale also adds lovely texture and flavour to potato and onion soup, making the Portuguese soup Caldo Verde, just shred it particularly finely and throw it in at the end of the cooking.


Shredded Cavolo Nero


Spring Greens

This is the terms I have always used for loose leafy greens, though I notice the supermarkets are dropping the “Spring” and just calling them greens now that they are available year round.   Take the ribs out of these for the best eating, but shred them quite finely (like the kale for soup) , and when you throw them in the boiling water, just bring it back to a boil and then strain them, they are really tender and need almost no cooking.


Then you can finish your cooked cabbage in lots of different ways:

  • Plain boiled, just as it comes from the pan. Drain it really well, and serve very hot, maybe a pat of butter. Still my favourite.
  • Saute some chopped pancetta and shallots until crispy, toss with the cabbage.
  • Saute chopped black pudding and apples and add to  cabbage (good with duck or pork).
  • Saute some cooked chestnuts in a little butter until warmed through and mix into the cabbage – sprouts are particularly good this way.
  • Dry fry fennel or caraway seeds in a pan and add to buttered cabbage. Aniseed flavours work well with cabbage.
  • Season lightly with a fruit vinegar, lemon or orange work well with all the cabbages.


But please, please, please, don’t overcook it!  No more mouldy old cabbagey smells!