I’ll begin this recipe post with an explanation of my devotion to the Stick Cabbage. Stick cabbage is by far one of my favorite, least expected treasures of this year. Maybe not as treasured as the parsnips but pretty close. A gardening friend Joe gave us this plant which I just stuck in the ground without expectations. I find my serenity regarding gardening (and pretty much everything else) is in direct proportion to my expectations. The higher my expectations the more precarious my serenity. I had never eaten stick cabbage and didn’t know anything about it except for what Joe told me. He said it was from the Azores and it was good sauteed. My husband Paul’s family is from the Azores so we took it as a sign that we should try growing this plant.
After a couple of weeks stick cabbage was looking pretty good. It started attracting some aphids but I sprayed it with a heavy stream of water every day for a few days and that took care of them.
I started doing a little research on it and it turns out it did not originate from the Azores but from Jersey, one of the Channel Islands near Normandy. This was not a total disappointment however, because one of my favorite authors Victor Hugo, based an epic novel, Toilers of the Sea around this geographic zone.
Stick Cabbage has an interesting look to it. The leaves look like collard greens or cabbage leaves but they propagate new clusters of leaves along the stalk creating multiple nodes every 3-4 inches as it increases in height. One could essentially break off a node, put it in the ground and grow another stick cabbage. Which is exactly what we did. The average height is 7 feet after 2-3 years but there is documentation of it growing up to 16 feet.
Historically, Stick Cabbage also known as Jersey Kale or Walking Stick Kale, was grown for multiple uses. Documentation of this Brassica began in the early 1900’s where it is reported to have provided food for the table, wrappings for butter and cheese, and an excellent and now forgotten fodder for sheep or cattle. Photographs of the time depict a dozen of them sheltering the door of a little hut, and big clusters grown to supply cattle with food. Sixty plants would provide sufficient fodder for a cow for an entire year lasting four years without fresh planting since only the side leaves were used. Sheep fed upon the walking stick cabbages were said to produce wool of the finest silken texture up to 25 inches long. They can also be seen in a line along the edge of a garden, forming a picturesque tidy border and a quaint kind of fence.
Cabbage stems were also used for roofing small buildings by the islanders, but their most lucrative transformation was into the production of walking sticks. To yield a strong, straight stem the lower leaves were stripped off as the plant grew. After several months the stems were dried and then smoothed, varnished, embellished and sold to tourists for a shilling.
The reason I am spending a considerable amount of time on this seemingly inconsequential plant is that it tastes so wonderful! It’s versatile, flavorful, effortless to grow and unique. I assume it’s nutritious because it’s a brassica and the deep green leaves indicate ample amounts of chlorophyll. I would like to say I had researched data on this but my research ended quickly when I googled “nutrition stick cabbage” and the only websites that appeared featured the “cabbage diet” and how to “stick to it”. Obviously the internet is not the only source for data so I will continue my search for stick cabbage nutrition elsewhere.
My two favorite uses for the cabbage leaves are to saute them with green onion, garlic, fresh herbs and salt and to use them for wraps. I have also used them in soup and roasted them with vegetables. What is interesting to me is that they resemble collards in appearance but the flavor and texture is somewhat different. A subtle blend of the tender Red Russian Kale and the flavor of broccoli. The fact that it is such a high producing, long lasting plant is another big attraction for me. I give it compost once a month and some bokashi and spirulina tea every so often and it remains healthy and pest free. We planted ours 7 months ago and it is now 3 feet tall and we harvest from it 3 times per week. It is definitely an appreciated staple in our home.
For sauteing, I cut the ribs out and lay about 3 stick cabbages on top of each other. I then roll them up width wise and cut them into 1/2 to 1 inch strips.
I then saute the strips in olive oil, green onion, garlic, fresh herbs, salt and black pepper. I’ve used savory herbs such as sage, marjoram, thyme as well as basil and tarragon. Saute time is only about 3 minutes. Just enough to soften it and bring out it’s rich flavor. It’s compatible with most herbs but I have also sauteed it with just the green onion, garlic, salt and pepper and it is just as delicious.
For wraps I lay the leaf flat with the rib facing up. I then run the knife from the middle of the leaf to the end of the stalk to flatten the rib. This allows the leaf to be bent easily without breaking while wrapping and makes it edible. The rib is quite thick and difficult to chew.
For preparation of the Ahi recipe simply saute the strips of stick cabbage in garlic, green onion, salt, and black pepper, for a few minutes, until bright and tender. I usually throw in an herb that is compatible with ginger miso dressing such as lemon basil, or cilantro. Since I am already roasting the beans and turnips with basil I will use a different herb to add more dimension and to layer the flavors. Remove cabbage from pan and plate approximately 2 cups (or however much you like) of sauteed cabbage in center of plate.