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WHAT'S FRESH : BUYING OPPORTUNITIES : Getting a Head : Cabbage, red or green, lasts practically forever--or at least until it's prepared as an appetizing dish.

May 10, 1990|PEGGY Y. LEE

Cabbage was cultivated as early as 2000 B.C. That's not only historically significant, that's a lot of cole slaw. And locally, cabbage has lost none of its appeal over time.

Ventura County, which grows more than 3,000 acres of cabbage, is the largest cabbage producer in the state, said Swede Severson, a statistician with the California Agricultural Statistics Service.

"There are a lot of big companies here in the county that supply the entire nation with cabbage," said Steve Tamai, a small grower in Oxnard. "There's a big market, and these companies are here to meet it." The demand for cabbage, he said, has stayed pretty stable.

One of the vegetable's main assets is its extremely long shelf life, Tamai said. "Cabbage can last forever if it's stored in a cooler."

Tamai recommends a Japanese appetizer that is made by mixing salt with shredded cabbage and letting it sit in the icebox for a few days.

Shoppers who purchase head start cabbage, the most popular variety, should look for a dark green color, Tamai said. "If it's sort of pale, it probably means it's been sitting there for some time." But Tamai said that color is not always a true indicator of freshness. "The only way you can really make sure it's fresh," he said, is to buy it and eat it.

The older a cabbage is, the more bitter it tastes, said Lucy Vanoni, a grower in Saticoy.

Vanoni, who just finished harvesting her last crop of red cabbage, recommended red over green because "when you go to cook it or prepare it, the red cabbage isn't as odorous."

But Vanoni cautioned against using red cabbage when stir-frying. "It discolors all your other vegetables."

Vanoni recommends sauteing a small onion, sliced or chopped, in a tablespoon of olive oil or two slices of bacon, then adding cabbage, a tablespoon of soy sauce and two tablespoons of honey or brown sugar and letting it steam for 10 to 15 minutes.

"If you want cabbage for cole slaw or cooking, you want a really tight, heavy head," Vanoni said. "If you want it for stuffing, you want it loose so you can peel the leaves off easily."

Vanoni also said the outer cabbage leaves make a good container for chips and dip, and for stuffing. Both green and red cabbage are available at the Ventura Farmers' Market, said Karen Collins, the market manager. "Squashes are also starting to come in, and they go fast. We also have a few weeks left of asparagus."

Consumers looking for cheese might try some Italian imports at Mrs. Gooch's in Thousand Oaks.

"We have a Reggiano Parmesan that's a very hard, dry cheese. It's well-aged, with a nice bite to it," said Mark Swanson, store manager.

Also available from Italy is Pecorino Romano, which is a more mellow, dry cheese, made from sheep's milk, Swanson said.

From Georgia are the "notoriously sweet" Vidalia brown onions, Swanson said. He recommends using them in salads, sandwiches and for sauteing.

Fish lovers can start looking forward to some fresh king salmon, because salmon season just opened, said Ed Lusk, co-owner of Cal Pacifica Seafood in Ventura. "Salmon," he said, "like to come into the deep water canyons off of Port Hueneme."

Salmon season in the area lasts about four to six weeks, he said.

Halibut, Pacific red snapper and Santa Barbara spot prawns, said Lusk, are also good local catches.

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