The Tasteful Garden How to Grow and Cook What You Love to Eat

Tasteful Garden: It’s prime time for planting cabbage

February 15, 2013 


Sweet, peppery red cabbage is colorful, crunchy and as produce goes is a pretty good deal. It's versatile, inexpensive, readily available and easy to prepare.


Carol Stein grows it

Most experts recommend placing cabbage plants outdoors between Feb. 1 and April 1. I prefer early February, since young cabbage plants are winter hardy but vulnerable to insects that arrive with the warm winds of spring.

Don’t overlook the red or purple varieties when shopping for plants. The young leaves have a smoky bluish-lavender hue that lingers on the outer leaves when the slick reddish purple heads form in the center of the plants. They provide a burst of edible color to the winter landscape.

Red Rookie, Red Acre, Ruby Ball, Red Rock, Mammoth Red and Red Drumhead each take about three months to mature after transplanting them into loamy, well-drained garden soils high in organic matter. Because cabbage is a cool-season crop, set plants where they will have full sun at first and afternoon shade during the final stages of development. Plant them at least 18 inches apart in rows spaced two to three feet apart.

Red Express is a compact variety that is well suited for growing in containers, but the root systems still need at least 12 inches all around to develop fully. Pop one plant into a container 12 to 18 inches deep and wide. In larger containers, space plants 12 inches apart.

For the larger varieties mentioned, double the size of the containers and allow 24 inches between plants.

Use clean, well-draining containers, and fill them with a mixture of equal parts fresh, soilless potting mix and organic compost or composted manure. Place containers in full sun the first few weeks, then move them to where they will receive morning sun and afternoon shade after mid-April.

Add a 2-inch layer of compost or mulch to both containers and garden rows to help keep the soil evenly moist. Regularly provide an inch of water weekly from planting through harvest.

Debbie Moose cooks it

Although it sticks out like a carrot-top kid at a bald men’s convention, red cabbage actually is in the same family as green cabbage. And they’re both related to other cruciferous vegetables, like Brussels sprouts (which my father used to call “little cabbages”).

The color of red cabbage – really more purple than red – is the fun part of this vegetable. It can brighten up winter dishes. Just think red rather than automatically grabbing the green.

Red cabbage has the same vitamins C and A as the green kind. But it also contains antioxidants like those found in other similarly colored produce, such as blueberries. Green cabbage doesn’t contain them, so red has an extra health boost.

Select heads of red cabbage that have fresh, crisp leaves and don’t appear dried out. Keep the heads tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Don’t cut the head until you’re ready to use it. In the supermarket, avoid pre-shredded red cabbage or precut heads. Cabbage begins to lose its nutrients quickly after slicing and becomes dry and tough.

Before slicing, remove and discard the head’s outer leaves if they’re damaged or tough. But don’t take off more leaves than necessary – the darker the leaf, the more nutrients it contains.

This slaw of a different color can brighten up a cold-weather menu. The recipe is from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” (Harvard Common Press, 2007), and is great for a basketball-viewing spread this time of year.

Reach Carol Stein and Debbie Moose at

For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:

Bobbi’s Spicy Slaw

Bobbi’s Spicy Slaw 1 medium-sized head red cabbage, quartered and core removed 1 jalapeno, sliced and seeds removed 2 cloves garlic 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds, crushed 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds, crushed 2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste Pinch of sugar Pinch of cayenne pepper 1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 tablespoons sour cream

SHRED the cabbage finely in a food processor or by hand. Place it in a large serving bowl.

PLACE the jalapeno, garlic, vinegar, mustard seeds and celery seeds in a food processor or blender. Pulse to puree. Add the salt, sugar and cayenne. While the machine is running, drizzle in the vegetable oil. Add the sour cream and pulse to combine. The dressing can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

TOSS the cabbage with the dressing one hour before serving. Taste, then add more salt, sugar or vinegar if desired. Serve immediately or refrigerate for no longer than 1 hour. Serve cool or at room temperature. YIELD:

8 to 10 servings

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