Cabbage has been one of the world's great staple vegetables for centuries. It produces a great weight of food from a relatively small patch of ground and is highly nutritious. Cabbage also keeps well without refrigeration and pickles easily for longer-term storage. This combination of easy growth and reliable storage has ensured cabbage a place in most culinary traditions. Its sweet flavor and versatility are an added bonus and make it a natural complement to many other vegetables.
The Versatility of Cabbage
Cabbage's sweet flavor makes it a chameleon that is able to work with a variety of other foods. Most cabbage flavors are derived from sulfur compounds, and it is correspondingly compatible with other vegetables that contain sulfur. Other members of the cabbage family, the brassicas, have similar flavor compounds in varying degrees, and are compatible with cabbage, as are root vegetables in general.
The Onion Family
The plants of the onion family are high in the same sulfurous flavor compounds as cabbages and are also naturally high in sugars. Both of these characteristics make them highly compatible with cabbage. In fact, they are so chemically alike that they can exaggerate each other's flavors. Slow-cooked onions, leeks or roasted garlic provide an excellent foil for cabbage and its relatives. Unfortunately, while long slow cooking makes onions sweeter, it makes cabbage stronger and sulfurous. It is best to slow cook onions separately, and add them to the dish near the end of the cooking time.
The Cabbage Family
Vegetables of the cabbage family are among the most important culinary plants, including various Asian greens as well as radishes, turnips, rutabagas, broccoli and cauliflower. All of these are compatible with cabbage in varying degrees, depending on the method of preparation. Each member of the family contains the same flavor compounds, with the differing proportions of chemicals accounting for their distinctive flavors. Even prepared mustard, a condiment from the seeds of related plants, is compatible with cabbage.
Other Root Vegetables
Other root vegetables are also compatible with cabbages, owing to their sweet and mellow flavors. Carrots and parsnips, which share cabbage's sweetness and cold-hardiness, are traditional accompaniments in many European cuisines. So are potatoes and sweet potatoes, two relative newcomers from the Americas. Celery root and sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, also complement cabbage in many dishes.