Why It Works
- Cutting the cabbage into wedges with the root intact helps it hold together on the grill.
- Charring adds sweetness and nutty depth to the cabbage.
- Very high heat allows you to char the cabbage while retaining plenty of fresh crunch in the interior.
It seems like every year, the internet has a new darling brassica. You all remember back in 2010, when it seemed like the entire world had just discovered Brussels sprouts for the first time, right? Or maybe the year after, when it was kale in everything from pizzas to smoothies? Of course, who can forget the year of charred broccoli.
What gives? I'm guessing it's because everyone goes through a similar thought process to mine each year around the time fall vegetables begin to dominate the farmers' markets: Charred Brussels sprouts are so damn awesome, I wonder if there are other, similar vegetables that I can char to get the same effect? It turns out the answer is yes: Pretty much any brassica will get nice and sweet and nutty when exposed to extremely high heat, and the simplest of them all, the basic green cabbage, is no exception.
In 2014, I had a Twitter conversation with local vegetarian pizza nerd Kelly Bone, in which she very astutely pointed out that cabbage was becoming the new kale. And she was right. At least, I did everything in my power to make sure she was right. Then and now, I believe that all it takes to convince people of the merits of cabbage is to cajole them to go into their backyards, throw some cabbages on the grill, and feed them to friends. Word of their deliciousness will spread. I'm sure of it.
As with other brassicas, the only real key is extreme high heat. I build a two-level fire with a full chimney of coal piled under half of the grill grate, leaving the other half empty.
The best way I've found to grill cabbage is to cut it into big fat wedges, leaving the core intact. This helps to keep all the leaves stuck together as it grills, and it gives you plenty of surface area for charring.
The goal here is to char the exterior (make sure to hit those wedges on all three surfaces!) while gently softening the interior, leaving a bit of raw crunch at the very center. To get there, I finish the cabbage off on the cooler side of the grill.
Once it's cooked, I toss the cabbage wedges with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. You'll find that they're pretty darn delicious even on their own. That smoky flavor penetrates deep into the layers, with a great contrast between the nutty sweetness of the charred exterior and the fresh crunch of the center.
It's a flavor and texture that lends itself to a wide variety of dressings or sauces, so I threw together several versions. My favorite by far: a Thai-inspired sauce similar to jaew, made with fish sauce, dried chiles, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and a ton of herbs. (For my other takes on grilled cabbage, find recipes listed in the Read More section below.)
In all honesty, it doesn't really matter which dressing or sauce you choose, because the grilled cabbage is so good that you're gonna get a chance to try the other ones very soon anyway. Your friends and family will demand it.
And if you don't have a grill, never fear—the recipe works almost as well under a broiler!
How to Grill Cabbage
3 tablespoons (45ml) fresh juice from 4 to 6 limes, divided
3 tablespoons (45ml) fish sauce
3 tablespoons (45g) palm or light brown sugar
3 medium cloves garlic (15g), finely minced
2 teaspoons dried Thai-style chile flakes, more or less to taste (see notes)
2 tablespoons (5g) chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons (5g) chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 medium head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds; 1200g), cut into 6 wedges, with core left intact
2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine 2 tablespoons (30ml) lime juice and all of fish sauce, sugar, and garlic in a small microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high heat until steaming-hot, about 20 seconds. Add chile flakes. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool in refrigerator, then stir in remaining lime juice and herbs. Set aside.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate.
Place cabbage wedges directly over hot side of grill. Cook, covered, until well charred on first side, about 2 minutes. Flip cabbage, cover, and cook until charred on second side, another 2 minutes. Flip wedges to third side, cover, and cook until well charred, another 2 minutes. Transfer cabbage to cooler side of grill, cover, and continue cooking until mostly tender but still crunchy in center, about 4 minutes longer.
Transfer cabbage to a large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with sauce and serve immediately.
Thai dried chile flakes can be found in Asian groceries. If unavailable, substitute with Chinese dried crushed chile or regular crushed red pepper flakes.
To cook the cabbage indoors instead, toss the raw wedges with 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil to coat. Place on a foil-lined broiler pan, and broil under high heat, turning occasionally, until well charred on all sides, about 15 minutes.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 5g||6%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||3%|
|Total Carbohydrate 21g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||16%|
|Total Sugars 14g|
|Vitamin C 82mg||412%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|