Eat To Live

Cabbage may help in cancer fight

A white cabbage plant.
A white cabbage plant. PHOTO: AFP

Cruciferous vegetables, especially cabbage, may contain anti-cancer properties

If it's round, it's a cruciferous vegetable.

That was how I picked out vegetables to help with cancer prevention and even cancer treatment.

So, cabbage was at the top of my list when I had to look after my brother who had cancer, many years ago.

It is round and if you choose the red one, its red colour denotes lots of anthocyanins which contain powerful antioxidants.

But cruciferous vegetables are more than the cabbage.

  • SEARED CABBAGE WEDGES WITH GARLIC OIL AND SOYA SAUCE

  • INGREDIENTS

    1 small round cabbage, cut into 4-6 even wedges, leaving the core intact

    1/2 lemon, cut into wedges

    1 tbs garlic oil, obtained by infusing fried garlic bits with vegetable oil

    1 tsp light soya sauce
     
    GARNISHES

    1 length of spring onion, chopped

    2 red or green chillies, sliced
     
    METHOD

    Heat a cast-iron grill pan over high heat till hot.

    Place the cabbage wedges on the pan, leaving them for a few minutes on each side to allow the searing to take place before turning it over.

    When ready, remove the cabbage and place on a serving plate.

    Dress the cabbage with a drizzle of garlic oil and some light soya sauce.

    Garnish with chopped spring onion and chilli, and serve immediately with some lemon on the side.

    SERVES FOUR TO SIX 

I have discovered that even Chinese vegetables, such as bok choy and kai lan, belong to this nutritious food family, as well as kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

But back to the cabbage.

We eat it often for it is most versatile. I boil it with fishballs and meatballs to make comforting soups; stew it for that traditional braise, chap chye; and even eat it raw, as in coleslaw salad.

In fact, in my household, we eat cabbage a lot, which I have now discovered is good for us. In fact, the recommendation is to eat at least two cups of cruciferous vegetables four to five times a week.

But I wanted to do something different with this head of cabbage. I could boil, steam or stir-fry it as usual, but could I sear it? I decided to try it. And ended up doing it again and again, so good it was.

The searing created attractive char lines on the vegetable, which had been cut into wedges.

It also brought out the sweetness of the cabbage, thanks to the caramelising from the searing process, while the simple dressing of garlic oil and light soya sauce made for winsome eating.

And this dish is easy, taking just minutes to turn out and little preparation, unless you consider washing and cutting the vegetable into wedges too much work.

I added a sprinkling of chopped spring onion and chilli for a final flourish, but you can forgo this step if you cannot be bothered.

This seared cabbage is useful if you want a vegetable dish for most meals as it can be successfully matched with both Western and Asian food. In other words, it goes well with both pasta and fried rice.

And if you are looking at the cabbage for more than good eating, it is extremely nutritious, as with all cruciferous vegetables.

More than 475 studies have examined the role of cabbage in cancer prevention (and in some cases, cancer treatment).

Its uniqueness in cancer prevention is due to the three different types of nutrients found in it: It is rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and rich in glucosinolates.

Glucosinolates are converted into a number of chemicals which may have anti-cancer properties.

Incorporating this sturdy-leafed vegetable into your diet also promises plenty of vitamins C, K and fibre.

You can use any one in the cabbage family for this recipe.

You can choose from the conical-shaped sugar loaf cabbage, the round green or red cabbage or the crinkly Savoy cabbage but perhaps not the long Napa or Chinese cabbage, which is a bit loose-leafed for this treatment.

I like the white round cabbage because it can be cut into neat even- sized wedges. Just be careful not to cut off the core of the vegetable that holds the leaves together. You can use the red cabbage too, though I think the sear marks look better on a white vegetable.

Indeed, as far as looks go, this is a very good-looking dish to serve at the table and easily apportioned too - a wedge per person.

  • Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Cabbage may help in cancer fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe