Cooking with Outer Cabbage Leaves and Bolted Cabbage

The grocery store gives us a wrong impression of what vegetables look like. I grew celery once and I couldn’t believe how large the plant was. What we buy at the grocery store is just the innermost stalks of celery.

Now I’ve got a bunch of cabbage in my winter garden. And the Hilton Chinese Cabbage (a Napa-style cabbage) is growing like crazy. I had this idea of what Napa cabbage should look like based on what I’ve boughten at the store. But just like with the celery, the Napa cabbage plant has so much more to offer. What I expected to get is just the innermost head. The plant has many outer leaves… many… many outer leaves.

Hilton Chinese Cabbage

At first I ignored them. Raw, they have a pretty strong cabbage flavor. And man are the leaves spikey. It actually hurts to rub the outer leaves with your fingers. So at first, eating the outer leaves didn’t sound too appetizing. But that’s the thing about growing your own food; you put so much effort into your plants so it just kills you to let anything go to waste.

So I decided to make cabbage rolls with the outer leaves. My goodness they were fabulous. I won’t lie, I was shocked because I wasn’t expecting much. But they really did turn out great.

To make the cabbage rolls I harvested the outermost leaves. I waited to pick the leaves so that I didn’t harvest more than a third of the plant.

Napa cabbage with outer leaves harvested

I boiled the leaves for 2-4 minutes until they were flexible. I drained them straight into a colander and then (quite easily) untangled them by hand and lay them out flat in preparation for stuffing them. I’ve never made cabbage rolls before so I was concerned about the ease of working with the cabbage leave, particularly when rolling them up. But it went beautifully. They had a slight stretch to them and were easy to roll without tearing. Also when I boiled the leaves the spikes went away and the cabbage became quite tasty after it’s quick, hot-water bath.

cabbage rolls
cabbage rolls and pierogies

So there I was, all happy with myself for using my outer cabbage leaves. (This was about two weeks ago.) Well I went out the other day and, to my dismay, my Napa cabbage had bolted! What started as small buds turned into small, yellow flowers just a few days later.

Napa-style cabbage on the verge of bolting

I was actually very surprised to see my cabbage had bolted; our temperatures are still in the 50s here so it didn’t seem hot enough to make the cabbage bolt. I did some Googling and I guess it’s common for Napa cabbage to bolt when the days get longer, regardless of the temperature. So I’m thinking that next year I need to get my Napa cabbage in the ground earlier so I can harvest it in the fall (rather than overwinter it and harvest it in the spring). Anyways, there I was, once again determined to not let my plant go to waste. So I harvested the entire, bolted cabbage and chopped it up for a slaw (flowers and all). Sometimes greens can be bitter once they’ve bolted but that was not true of my cabbage; it tasted just as good. I put the slaw on some tacos and my husband and I had a great Friday-night dinner.

tacos with cabbage slaw

So there you have it: two ways to use cabbage when you never get an actual head-of-cabbage to harvest. 🙂


3 thoughts on “Cooking with Outer Cabbage Leaves and Bolted Cabbage

  1. Love the “waste not” philosophy. Your dishes just look delicious! I’ll be using your suggestions, even if mine doesn’t bolt, because I always just put those outer leaves in the compost now that I don’t have livestock to enjoy them, and that seems a bit of a waste.


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