Cabbages are plentiful at the markets right now. Who can resist the sharp crack as you slice into a crisp cabbage head? This is the time to get plants started for fall crops.
Brassicas all have sulfur compounds
What is it about the scent and flavor of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale? We all recognize it, whether coming from steaming broccoli in the kitchen or from rotting cabbage leaves left in the fields to overwinter. But that sulfurous odor is what makes them so extraordinarily good for us. All plants in this family are full of sulfur compounds called sulphoraphanes, anticarcinogenic compounds that make the vegetables so heart-healthy.
Vitamins and antioxidants are plentiful
All Brassicas (comes from the scientific name for this family of vegetables – Brassicaceae) are high in fiber, low calorie and low fat. They are sources of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron. The more color the plant has, the more antioxidants it provides. Purple cabbage, orange and purple cauliflowers, red mustard and kale, purple broccoli and brussels sprouts all have more benefits than their green counterparts.
Grow these crops in all seasons
In the garden, brassicas bridge all seasons. You can time planting kale and Chinese cabbage in very early spring when no other vegetables are producing. Their flavors add a pungent freshness to the sweet mellowness of winter stored potatoes, carrots and winter squash. And most of them will last well into fall to provide leafy greens and sweet small cabbage heads for colcannon or “kalecannon” for the Thanksgiving table. Put them under a cold frame and you can often coax them through most of the winter. One of the best traits of almost all brassicas is the chemistry that sweetens them after a frost.
If you plan to start brassicas for the spring garden, they should be seeded in late winter under lights, or in early spring outdoors. The greens are easily grown from seed in the garden, but the larger brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts should be started indoors for transplanting into the garden.
In the warmer summer climates such as North Carolina, they tend to go to flower quickly since summer comes on fast. So, plant broccoli rabe or broccoli Calabrese for spring and save the heading broccoli and cauliflower for fall crops. Start plants in early to mid-July for transplanting into the fall garden.
Easy to grow
Growing all of the brassicas is fairly simple. They grow best in full sun in rich organic soil that is well-drained. They are moderate feeders so benefit from a top-dressing of compost or composted manure when planting. Mulch with organic mulch such as straw once they are growing. Once you harvest the central heads of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, you will often be provided with side shoots through the summer.
The two items that should be in your arsenal for pest control are Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organic bacterial pesticide that goes after pesky cabbage moth larvae, and floating row covers which can keep the moths away and help avoid aphid infestation. Since we are not looking for any pollination of the brassicas, the floating row covers can stay on all season.
Red cabbages seem to be less prone to cabbage moth damage. Plant a green cabbage among the reds for beauty and also as a trap crop.
Let’s cook some cabbage
Cabbage is perhaps the best brassica to stand up to most types of cooking. My family doesn’t generally look favorably upon cooked cabbage, mostly because they remember the traditional corned beef and cabbage in which the cabbage is boiled to a soggy mass.
So, let’s try for something totally different – grilled cabbage steaks. These are tender-crunchy with the smokiness of the grill and a hint of caramelization. Delicious!
Roasted or Grilled Cabbage steaks
Preheat oven to 375 or grill to medium
1 head of cabbage, green or red, sliced into 1/2″ steaks
salt and pepper
Tahini Lemon Sauce
1/2 c. tahini
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup water (or more if necessary)
Place cabbage steaks on pan filmed with olive oil. Roast in oven about 15-20 minutes until crisp tender. You can put them under the broiler for a minute or so if they haven’t browned. Don’t overcook or it will be soggy. Dress with tahini lemon sauce. And you can also spice things up a bit with crisp crumbled bacon or feta cheese.
Alternatively, grill, turning over once for about fifteen minutes.
Place tahini, lemon juice and garlic in blender. Turn blender on and add water gradually as needed to reach the consistency you desire. Blend until smooth.
The sauce is a wonderful sauce or dip for any type of vegetable. You can thin it a bit more to use as a salad dressing.