The one reassuring thing when standing with a large and heavy cabbage head in one’s hands, is the promise that you will have more than enough leaves to feed a cold and hungry family in the dead of winter. This is probably the main reason why rookie food gardeners fall for the temptation to sow all the seeds in a seed packet in late summer, when preparing the veggie garden for a winter harvest – usually in May and June. The result of this enthusiasm and hope is normally overproduction and very sulky eaters if you have to use up a large glut of cabbages.
Young cabbage seedlings are best started in seedling trays or a little seedbed about 4 to 6 weeks before they have to be transplanted into the garden where they like to grow in full sun in the still hot days but already cool nights of late autumn. Rather make successive small sowings, or use different varieties of seed with different maturity rates to ensure a constant supply. You can also buy punnets of strong seedlings at your local nursery.
Apart from the big old market cabbages like ‘Drumhead’ which requires about 120 days to mature, one can also go for red cabbage (actually richer in nutritional value) or baby cabbage varieties which will be ready for harvesting in about 50 to 65 days – the latter two is a better choice for small gardens with limited space.
Cabbage is good for you
It is said that cabbage is amongst the top ten most nutritious vegetables containing free radicals which protects and also detoxes one’s body. It is rich in vitamins A and C and much needed minerals. Purists and the fanatical health nuts will say one should preferably eat a freshly harvested cabbage raw to really appreciate its peppery and sweet taste. But this being said, there is also something emotional about the traditional cabbage and meatballs dish grandmothers made to get their kids to eat this vegetable. The recipe below actually brought tears of gratitude into some eyes on a dark and stormy night
Cabbage and meatballs
A large cabbage head
30 ml oil
2 onions (finely chopped)
30 ml paprika
125 ml cooked rice
500 g pork mince (use banger meat)
500 g beef mince
2 tablespoons tomato paste
15 ml dried thyme
Salt and pepper
15 ml fennel seed (crushed)
200 g bacon (chopped and crisply fried)
1 tin canned crushed tomato
60 ml tomato paste
Sour cream (for serving)
Remove the large outer cabbage leaves carefully to keep them whole (you need about 10). Soak each leaf in a pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes to soften them enough to fold. Remove the centre leaf stalk to divide the leaf into two halves. Carve the rest of the cabbage head very finely and keep aside.
Heat oil in a pan and fry the onions until soft. Add the paprika and rice and lightly fry for a few minutes.Mix the mince with 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, the onion and rice mixture, and add the thyme, fennel and salt and pepper to taste. Fry a little of this mixture in the pan to check the flavouring.
Place a heaped tablespoon of this mixture onto a cabbage leaf half and fold into a neat parcel.
Place half of the raw, finely carved cabbage leaves in a layer at the bottom of a large oven casserole dish and place the filled cabbage and mince parcels on top. Spread the bacon pieces and cover with a layer of the left over carved raw cabbage.
Mix the 60 ml of tomato paste with 500 ml of boiling water and pour over the top to cover the parcels halfway.
Cover with a lid and bake at 180⁰ C for about one and a half hour. Remove the lid and pour the canned crushed tomatoes over with a light sprinkling of more paprika.
Bake open for another 30 minutes and serve with a dollop of sour cream and beetroot salad.
This is a very generous dish which can feed at least 6 to even 8 persons.