Ode to the humble cabbage

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Tamai Family Farms supplies Superba with green and purple cabbage. Aja Tamai helps her mother, Gloria, run the farm.

Look for cabbage heads that are tight, firm, and heavy, with crisp outer leaves.

Green, white, red, and purple cabbage grow in California fields year-round. But at Tamai Family FarmsGloria Tamai says the winter cabbages, in season now at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, taste the sweetest. Tamai says the cooler temperatures of January and February allow more time for the natural sugars in the plants to develop. She encourages her customers to give cabbages they’re considering buying a light squeeze to make sure they are firm and not mushy.

Superba chef James Trees counts himself among the stalwart fans of cabbage. At Superba’s Venice restaurant, chefs dress shredded green cabbage with red wine vinaigrette and serve the slaw in a fried chicken sandwich, Bakesale Betty-style. Before he perfected the coleslaw recipe, Trees made a special trip to the tiny Oakland soul food joint to find out what was missing. The secret ingredients, he determined after tasting the Bakesale Betty slaw, were sweet onions marinated in vinegar.

Trees is also stocking up on red cabbage to make an Austrian braised cabbage dish for the Tehachapi Grain Project Dinner at Superba on February 23. Chefs Bruce Kalman, Charles Olalia and David LeFevre will also be cooking for the seven-course dinner benefit. All proceeds will support the Tehachapi Grain Project, which aims to bring back heritage grains to Southern California farms.

Superba’s fried chicken sandwich with cabbage slaw. (Photo courtesy of Superba)