Cabbage is a resilient vegetable that can be appealing either fully or lightly cooked. Cooking time for cabbage depends on the recipe you are preparing and the audience you are serving: eaters who enjoy nouvelle cuisine usually prefer vegetables such as cabbage lightly cooked, while traditional Old World dishes often call for cabbage that is cooked a long time until it is extremely soft. Finely shredded, cabbage only needs to cook for a minute or two on medium heat to cook down and wilt. However, cooking it longer creates different flavors and textures that can be equally appealing.
Culinary traditions such as Irish, Italian and Eastern European, which include recipes for cabbage stews, tend to incorporate cabbage that has been cooked until it is very soft. Cabbage in stews should be quartered and then sliced into 1/4-inch to 1-inch pieces, and then cooked until tender but not long enough to overcook and take on a sulfurous flavor. It can take up to 30 minutes for cabbage to cook fully in a stew, so it should be added after the meat has cooked for a while and before adding quicker cooking vegetables such as green beans and zucchini.
Cabbage can be wilted, or cooked very lightly so it retains its sweet, nutty flavor and much of its crunchy texture. It only takes a few minutes to wilt cabbage in a sauté pan, although some people prefer cabbage more fully wilted, especially if they have grown up with traditional Irish or Eastern European cuisines. The smaller you cut your cabbage pieces, the more fully they will cook. Cabbage can also be wilted for a couple of minutes in a steamer.
The flexible outer leaves used in stuffed cabbage should be blanched in boiling water to soften them before the cabbage rolls are assembled. This precooking renders the cabbage leaves flexible so they can be easily rolled, and it shortens the baking time required to further soften the cabbage once the rolls are assembled. When the meat, grains and vegetables in cabbage roll filling are fully cooked before the rolls are assembled, the baking process just has to fully tenderize the cabbage. This usually takes 45 minutes to an hour in a covered pan in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven.
Cabbage does not need to be cooked at all: raw cabbage makes a flavorful and crunchy base for slaws and cabbage salads. Seasoned with fresh lime and a bit of salt, it provides a refreshing topping for tacos, pupusas and tostadas. Sauerkraut and kim chi are fermented, uncooked cabbage dishes that use beneficial bacteria to soften cabbage and change its flavor.
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