Cabbage is turning over a new leaf.
Long considered one of the most unglamorous veggies in the produce aisle, the humble crucifer is having a moment, like Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower before it. Chefs and cookbook authors are suddenly praising its versatility, taste and texture. Instagram is flooding with everything from well-known varieties — green, purple, napa and savoy — to lesser-known, more coveted cabbages, including Caraflex and January King. In the near future, we may find ourselves whining that Trader Joe’s is out of cabbage gnocchi, yet again.
“It’s been underrated,” says chef Nahid Ahmed, who serves a pollock dish with melted cabbage, coconut kimchi sauce and dehydrated cabbage at his praised East Village tasting menu spot, Luthun.
“We love cabbage because of its versatility,” says John DePierro, the culinary lead at the West Village’s buzzy, Southwestern-tinged Banty Rooster. The sole vegetarian entree on his menu is a char-roasted cabbage dish with wild mushrooms, porcini rouille and potato crisps. Like cauliflower steak, he says, cabbage “eats like a meat when grilled or roasted.”
In the acclaimed cookbook “Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables” (Chronicle Books), author Abra Berens declares cabbage her favorite vegetable and waxes poetic about it.
“She is a reliable and hardworking friend,” she writes. “Tomatoes are darlings, it’s true, but they are around for only a handful of weeks, and when it gets cold or rainy, they are as lively as a wet blanket. Not you, cabbage.”
Alison Roman is also a big fan. In her best-selling cookbook “Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over” (Clarkson Potter), Roman calls her simple, unsexy cabbage recipe — now a social-media darling — “one of the most unsuspectingly delicious things in this book.”
Gramercy Tavern chef Michael Anthony — who buys sweet, crunchy Caraflex cabbage from a farm upstate — theorizes cabbage’s newfound popularity stems from the growing popularity of Korean cuisine, and the techniques it relies on.
“If you ask any chef what aspect of cooking they’re most interested in right now,” he says, “the No. 1 answer is fermentation.”
That’s why Gramercy Tavern’s kimchi-inspired seafood stew contains lightly fermented Caraflex — or “the star of the show,” as he calls it. “It acts as a core component of a dish, the way usually a stock or a broth creates the opportunity for flavors to meld and latch on to each other.”
But not everyone is convinced that cabbage is the new It veggie.
Steven Hall, a veteran restaurant industry publicist, says he’s not sure that cabbage has the potential to be the next kale or cauliflower.
“Cabbage Caesar, anyone? Cabbage steak?” he quips.
And Oberon Sinclair — the publicist credited with making kale cool — just can’t get over the veggie’s fatal flaw.
“The odor can be a tad disheartening,” says Sinclair, who is known as the Queen of Kale. “It is not my favorite vegetable.”