What to Do With an Overload of Cabbage

March  6, 2015

Winter is here and we're serious about keeping farmers market produce on the menu. Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Cooks shows us how to store, prep, and make the most of it, without wasting a scrap.

Today: Alexandra cooks up a cabbage recipe that will have you going back for seconds and thirds.

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Whenever I find myself eating pounds of vegetables in single sittings, I often have my sheet pan to thank, along with a good bit of salt, high heat, and all of the irresistibly crispy, near-burnt by-products they create.

So, when I found myself making this braised cabbage multiple nights in a row, helping myself to thirds every evening, nearly polishing off whole heads for dinner, I thought: Really? Soft, pallid cabbage ribbons have me hankering for more? A braise unadorned by a single crunchy breadcrumb or cube of crisp pancetta has me this enamored? How?

This recipe comes from Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton’s first cookbook, and, like many of the vegetable recipes included in the book, relies on a minimal but big-flavor ingredient list and good technique. Here, half a head of garlic, eight anchovies, a stick of butter, sliced cabbage, and a small amount of water braise until the cabbage turns “watercolor green" and soft in texture but still able to hold its shape. Hamilton notes that if the cabbage is braised properly, with a tight-fitting lid -- she suggests using both parchment and foil to make a seal -- condensation will drip from the lid into the pot, which, along with the sweet liquid drawn from the cabbage, will create a rich, flavorful broth.

It may take as long as an hour for the cabbage to braise, but the process is mostly hands-off, and the preparation is astonishingly simple -- garlic is peeled but not minced, anchovies are left whole, cabbage is washed but not dried. Unlike traditional braises that start with high heat and finish with low heat, this one moves at a leisurely pace from the moment the garlic and anchovies enter the pot until the last hunk of butter dissolves into the sauce.

What I love almost as much as the finished cabbage itself is how the recipe is dictated, each step written in such a way that offers both direction and purpose. For instance, instead of instructing readers to cook the garlic over low heat, Hamilton warns, "Do not fry or otherwise brown the garlic and anchovy," noting she wants it to "take on a sweet quality rather than a nutty one." Or, "Stir in a good chunk of cold butter with a wooden spoon and shake the pot a bit as well. This will turn the cabbage a bit creamy and take off any of the hard saltiness of the anchovy." 

It's nice having answers to the questions that so often arise while cooking, and Hamilton's instructions throughout the book leave you with no question as to where she wants the finished dish to go. With so much clarity outlined in each recipe, you might fear straying from her guidance. But if you dare to take this recipe one step further, a squeeze of lemon and a handful of parsley offer an acidity and freshness that nicely complement the sweet, briny broth. A showering of Parmesan and a heel of crusty bread turn this side dish into a meal you’ll want to make again and again, one that will leave you with a single unanswered question: Did I really just eat two pounds of cabbage in one sitting? If only Hamilton were by your side to answer.


Selecting and storing your cabbage:
Cabbage should feel firm and heavy with shiny, tight leaves laid against each other. Store it in a cool environment such as your fridge, basement, or garage, and when you're ready to prep, remove any outer wilted or scraggly leaves.

If you're preparing the cabbage for a raw salad, slice it in half through its core, then cut out the triangular-shaped core in each half with a sharp knife. If the cabbage looks dirty, rinse or soak until dirt is removed.


Using your cabbage:

Raw and fermented:

  • Raw cabbage that's shredded finely makes a great crunchy salad or slaw. Mix it with other thinly sliced vegetables, fruits, dried fruits, nuts, and herbs, and toss with any number of dressings, from mayonnaise-based to ginger-soy to spicy, honey-lime.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, try making classic sauerkraut, but be sure to leave two weeks for the fermentation. Don’t have the patience? Make krautsalat -- a cross between sauerkraut and slaw -- made with five ingredients, ready in just about an hour.


Cabbage can be cooked in countless ways: sliced and sautéed or stir-fried; cut into wedges and roasted, braised, blanched and used as a wrap for ground meats and rice; or wrapped around fish before steaming. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use it, if I'm not making this braise:

Braised Green Cabbage with Anchovies and Garlic

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

2 pounds green cabbage, cored, halved, and then cut into 1-inch strips
8 anchovy fillets in oil
1/2 head whole garlic, peeled but leaving cloves whole
4 ounces unsalted butter (plus another chunk to add at the end of cooking)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lemon, halved (optional)
1/2 cup chopped parsley (optional)
Freshly grated parmesan (optional)

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here. 

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


Susan March 7, 2015
What I have right now is an overload of saurkraut! I made it last spring from home-grown cabbage and it is delicious. But here's the quandry: I'm a vegetarian. Aside from serving my yummy 'kraut with fake meat (something I refuse to do), what would all you smart cooks suggest? Are there any truly vegetarian recipes (I'd love some mains) that feature saurkraut??
witloof March 7, 2015
You can cook sauerkraut and serve it with mushrooms and kasha or use it as a stuffing for pierogi. You can also make soup with it.
Susan March 8, 2015
Thanks! Pierogi are probably beyond my abilities, but the other two sound great.
Alexandra S. March 8, 2015
Those are great ideas. I've never tried this, but could you make a grilled cheese? On some good rye bread with gruyere?
Iglika P. May 10, 2015
I might be a bit late with my response since you probably had solved your sauerkraut problem, but in case you find yourself again with sauerkraut overload...My family used to make about 100 pounds of sauerkraut per year (don't ask why). My mother would chop a whole head or two, then add a lot of olive oil and paprika and bake it for 1-2 hours in the oven, until the sauerkraut becomes golden brown and crispy as fried onion strings. Then serve it as garnish or add a spoonful to vegetable chili (beans and crispy sauerkraut are match made in heaven!).
Alexandra S. May 10, 2015
Yum! That sounds so good.
TerryKes March 7, 2015
I love cabbage and can eat a head in one sitting with now problem. While I'm sure it's delicious, eating much of this with a stick of butter, plus some, could be a problem. And 8 anchovies? I'll try that, too, but yeah, seems like a lot. A game changer for a normally low calorie splurge.
Alexandra S. March 7, 2015
It's definitely a lot of butter, but so worth it. I've tried cutting back both the anchovies and the butter, and it just doesn't work (for me at least) — the broth just lacks a richness when these two ingredients are cut back. But I agree, at first glance, it's a little alarming :)
Annette March 6, 2015
Granted I ate a lot. Almost 2 heads in as many days. Slaws, soups, was delicious but I just had no idea what could happen. I must sound like a freak, lol.
Alexandra S. March 7, 2015
Haha, not a freak at all. Love the idea of a good cabbage bender :)
Michelle March 6, 2015
Does it taste fishy? I know some recipes call for an anchovy filet that kind of melts away, but eight seems like they would definitely be detectable?
Alexandra S. March 7, 2015
You know, it definitely has a briny/seafoody quality, which is why the lemon and parsley work so well, but it doesn't taste fishy — you almost wouldn't know it was anchovies if that makes sense. But yes, there is a hint of the sea in this dish, and I've made it with fewer than 8 anchovies, and to me it wasn't the same. They are so good.
Kopperchick March 6, 2015
I love to shred it thinly, heat up some sesame oil, then sauté it quickly. After a few minutes I add a small amount of soy sauce, and let that steam for a minute. That's it, and it's a yummy, simple side.
Alexandra S. March 7, 2015
Love this idea! Simple and delicious. Going to try this soon.
Annette March 6, 2015
I love cabbage but would warn people on the dangers of eating too much in one sitting. I have an iron gut but spent days in gaseous agony after a delicious cabbage spree.
Alexandra S. March 6, 2015
Oh, I know, the gas! It can be terrible. But I didn't know it could be dangerous!