Try cabbage: It's healthy and versatile

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Cabbage continues to be a useful food that is easy to grow, is tolerant of cold, keeps well and can be cooked in a wide variety of ways. Cabbage is a sturdy, abundant and inexpensive vegetable that is versatile and full of texture.

With vitamin C, fiber and the B vitamin folate, cabbages (like other cruciferous vegetables) are rich in potential cancer-fighting phytochemical compounds. Each type of cabbage has a different nutritional makeup - for example, red cabbage has more vitamin C than green cabbage, and compared with other types of cabbage, Savory cabbage contains more beta carotene.

In the market place, hundreds of varieties of cabbage are grown throughout the world, but in American markets, you will find three basic types: green, red and savoy.

Green - This cabbage has smooth, dark to pale green outer leaves; the inner leaves are pale green or white. Three types of green cabbage - Danish, domestic and pointed - account for most commercially marketed cabbage. Danish types - which are grown for late-fall sale and for storage over the winter - are very compact and solid, with round or oval heads. Domestic types form slightly looser, round or flattened heads, with curled leaves that are more brittle than any of the Danish types. Pointed varieties, which are grown mainly for spring marketing, have small, rather conical heads and smooth leaves.

Red - Similar in flavor to green cabbage, red cabbage has deep ruby red to purple outer leaves, with white veins or streaks on the inside. The texture may be somewhat tougher than green, but red cabbage has more vitamin C, providing 56 percent of RDA in a 1-cup serving.

Savoy - This cabbage has crinkled, ruffly, yellow-green leaves that form a less compact head than other types. Savoy cabbage has a more delicate texture and milder flavor than other varieties, making it a good choice for salads and coleslaw.

The following is a list of some of the more common Chinese cabbages you may even find outside a Chinese neighborhood.

Baby bok choy - Miniature bok choy is shaped like the big choy, but its stems and leaves are a more uniform green.

Bok choy - Cluster of white to light green stems topped with darker green leaves.

Choy sum - It has small yellow flowers and slim stalks with round leaves.

Gai choy - It is entirely edible.

Napa - There are several varieties of napa cabbage; they are the michihili and wong bok and Tuscan.

A head of cabbage should not look puffy, although Savoy types are normally looser and lighter than smooth-leaved. Fall and winter cabbage from storage is usually firmer than the fresh-picked types sold in spring and summer. Don't buy halved or quartered heads of cabbage, even if well wrapped: As soon as leaves are cut or torn, the vegetable begins to lose vitamin C.

Preparing cabbage: When preparing your cabbage, some may contain worms; for some this may mean that no chemical pesticides were used during cultivation. To get rid of any clinging insects, soak cabbage in salt water or vinegar water for about 15 minutes. Any cabbage containing no worms can simply be washed under running water.

Cooking cabbage: Don't cook too long or use too much water; cabbage tends to lose its color and some of its nutrients and flavor. When using red cabbage and to prevent red cabbage from losing its color, use a stainless-steel knife to cut it, and when using it in a salad, sprinkle it with a bit of vinegar. Adding an acidic ingredient to the cooking water helps to preserve its color, while too much water detracts from its color.