How Chefs Make Cabbage Exciting

Cabbage isn't just a side dish—it can be the star of the show.

When it comes to St. Patrick's Day cuisine, corned beef and cabbage has always taken center stage. But there's no reason for cabbage to play second fiddle to a protein—in fact, for many chefs, the cruciferous vegetable now plays a starring role. From Paris to Oxford, Mississippi and many places in between, cabbage is being transformed into innovative entrees and sides. Even traditional uses of cabbage are being updated, as chefs show these leaves the respect they've long deserved.

Not your grandmother’s stuffed cabbage

Toward the end of the 2021 growing season, one of the farmers that supplies Galit in Chicago asked if the restaurant could do anything with cabbage. "All of the farms in their consortium had over ten thousand pounds they needed to move," chef Zach Engel told The Takeout via email. "I knew a cole slaw wasn't really going to cut it and I would need to use a half a head of cabbage (per dish) to help the farmers out."


Galit's four-course menu always features an entree option that is vegan and gluten free, and the restaurant likes to offer something cooked over charcoal or in its wood-fired pita oven. So, Engel devised a hearty stuffed cabbage dish.

"We slowly poach the cabbages in aleppo chilies, pomegranate molasses, and baharat," he said. "After that, the cabbage is roasted in the oven and stuffed with grilled mushrooms and mujadara, a mix of rice and lentils. We glaze it with a chermoulah vinaigrette and place it on a bed of turmeric tahini."

"It takes a lot of planning ahead, but this stuffed cabbage dish is super hearty and full of acid and brightness," Engel added. "You can mess with the spices and flavors in any way you want, but when it hits the table, it's a real show-stopper."


Top cabbage with tahini

Scrolling through Instagram, I spotted a post from Paris-based author and chef Emily Gaudichan in which she raved about a cabbage dish at Clamato made with sesame and XO sauce. I reached out to the restaurant by email and heard back from Alessia Serratore, Clamato's assistant director.


The cabbage comes from La Ferme de l'envol, Clamato's shared farm in the outskirts of Paris. "It is pre-salted, charred on a plancha, and finished in the oven, then reseasoned with fresh lemon juice and salt," Serratore explained. "The tahini sauce is a base of white sesame paste emulsified with fresh lemon juice, water, salt, and extra virgin olive oil from Biancolilla Reserve."

For the XO sauce, scallops are slow fried until crispy, then the restaurant adds haddock with garlic, plus panca and chipotle chilies. "We deglaze with tamari, muscovado sugar, and, once chilled, it is seasoned with black rice vinegar," said Serratore. Any remaining pieces of protein are pulled from the sauce once it's cooked.


Roast cabbage with honey

Southwest roasted cabbage with spiced honey is a vegetarian item that appears regularly on the menu at Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (I wrote about Zingerman's in my 2022 book, Satisfaction Guaranteed). Chef Bob Bennett sources the cabbage from local producer Goetz Farms in Riga, Michigan. It's roasted and topped with spiced honey, then served with Carolina Gold rice and sweet potato broth. The dish is topped with cotija cheese and herbed bread crumbs.


Bennett says chef Gregory Collier, known for his restaurants in Charlotte, North Carolina, "reminded me that cabbage is more than a sidekick for corned beef. This dish has cabbage at the center of the plate, and everything else just serves as an enhancement."

Turn cabbage into a complex salad

In his best-selling cookbook I Am From Here, James Beard Award–winning chef Vishwesh Bhatt shares a recipe for a cabbage, kale, carrot, and peanut salad.

"Even though I grew up in a vegetarian household, we never really ate salads," Bhatt writes. "My mother did serve kachumber, a common preparation of fresh vegetables that is somewhere between a relish, a salsa, and a chopped salad. Her version included carrots, cucumbers, and sometimes beets and radish, dressed with lemon juice and garnished with chopped peanuts."


Bhatt's cabbage salad is an effort to recreate his mother's dish using the best produce from his local farmers market; he added kale because he grew to like it as an adult. You can substitute chopped Brussels sprouts and add a Honeycrisp apple when they are in season.

"This is a great dish if you are looking for something raw, crunchy, and fresh to make in late fall or early winter," he writes. It can serve as a first course or as a light side for meat.

Make a quick sauerkraut

Chef Max Robbins of The Oakville Grill & Cellar in Chicago tells me that sauerkraut "is one of those things where you either love it or love it (because it's awesome)."

"But who has the time or patience to stuff some cabbage into a jar and hope it turns out good after four weeks?" he adds.


Robbins doesn't want cooks to give up and go to the store and buy "a boring and generic brand" of sauerkraut. Instead, he recommends a quick-pickled version that takes far less time but is nevertheless capable of impressing even "your foodiest pickle nerd friends."

So-called Hour Kraut can be customized depending on the season by switching up the spices or the beer and adding other elements like carrots or apples to the mix.

"No one will ever believe this hasn't been fermenting for weeks," Robbins says.

Hour Kraut

  • 1 head green cabbage, sliced thin
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic, whole
  • 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 1/2 can (6 oz.) inexpensive lager beer, i.e. PBR or Budweiser
  • Just less than 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 3/4 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3/4 Tbsp. toasted caraway seeds
  • Optional:

    • 3 toasted juniper berries
    • 2 dried bay leaves
    • Slice the cabbage and onion thin and mix with the rest of the ingredients. In a large ceramic or microwave safe bowl, mix the ingredients. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and microwave eight minutes. Let the cabbage stand for 20 minutes before serving. Alternatively, for best results, vacuum seal the hot cabbage. It can either be eaten 20 minutes, or stored in the refrigerator in the vacuum bag until eaten.