How To Substitute Cabbage For Spinach And Other Greens


With its incredible nutritional value, spinach is a fantastic addition to your diet. Not only is this leafy green low in calories, but it is also high in fiber and loads of other vitamins and nutrients. But what if you are not a fan of the taste? Or you don’t have any available? I am a spinach fan, but when I’m all out of it, I often substitute it with cabbage. 

You can substitute cabbage for spinach under most circumstances. Raw cabbage can be substituted on a 1:1 basis. Cooked spinach wilts considerably more than cooked cabbage so consider substituting less cabbage when cooking in a recipe.

Read on for a guide on using cabbage and other leafy greens as a substitute for spinach.  

What’s The Difference Between Cabbage And Spinach?

Although both spinach and cabbage are leafy greens, they do differ in several ways. Aside from the differences in nutrient value, they also differ in taste and texture.

The Taste And Texture Of Spinach 

Spinach tastes quite different when it is raw compared to when it is cooked. Raw spinach is a little sweet, with a mild herby flavor. However, it can be a little bitter, but generally speaking, it blends easily into salads and sandwiches. 

The water content in spinach is high, and you may experience that wateriness and a bit of a squeak when you bite into raw spinach. However, despite the wateriness, it does leave a dry feeling in your mouth. 

When cooked, it becomes tangy and a bit acidic. However, this acidic flavor is often masked with other flavors such as garlic. Spinach also has an entirely different texture when cooked – it becomes incredibly tender. It wilts to a much smaller size.

Type Of Spinach

Savoy spinach has deep green bumpy leaves, so it looks pretty similar to kale. However, when raw, this sort of spinach is probably the most like cabbage in terms of texture.

Flat or smooth leaf spinach is lighter green. When you find baby spinach in the stores, it is flat or smooth leaf spinach.

Savoy spinach with curly leaves
Flat leaf spinach

The Taste And Texture Of Cabbage 

As with spinach, cabbage tastes quite different when cooked compared to when it is raw. There are a few different types of cabbage, and each is a little different. Raw cabbage, in general, has a peppery taste, and the darker the cabbage, the stronger the flavor. 

Green cabbage is probably the most common variety of cabbage. The outer leaves are generally darker, while the inside is pale green or white. Its texture, when raw, is somewhat rubbery, and its flavor is peppery. However, once cooked, it softens and becomes sweeter. 

Red or Purple Cabbage is not as tender as green or white cabbage because it takes longer to mature. However, be aware that the color will leach into any other ingredients when you cook with this sort of cabbage. 

Savoy Cabbage, like savoy spinach, has deep green crinkly leaves. It is the most tender and sweet of the cabbage varieties.  It is excellent in stuffed cabbage because the pliable leaves stand up to cooking. It is also great when eaten raw in coleslaw. This cabbage is my preference when substituting for spinach.

Chinese cabbage or napa is softer and sweeter than the other varieties.

How To Substitute Cabbage For Spinach

How you substitute cabbage for spinach depends on what you are preparing. 

Raw Cabbage

As mentioned earlier in the article, the flavor of raw spinach tends to blend easily into sandwiches and salads. On the other hand, raw cabbage has a sharper, more peppery taste, so you would need to approach substituting raw cabbage for raw spinach with caution. 

Consider the type of cabbage that would work best as a substitution. For example, savoy cabbage in a salad would be a better substitution for spinach than green cabbage, which is much more rubber and sharp-tasting. 

Cooked Cabbage

It is easier to substitute cabbage for spinach in recipes that involve cooked spinach, such as soups, stews, and casseroles. Cooked cabbage is tasty and becomes very tender when cooked, so it generally would blend well into a recipe.

As the spinach is delicate and full of water, it wilts considerably. You need a big mound added to have much impact in a dish. Cabbage is more robust and does not wilt very much. So a large amount of spinach used would be too much if substituted 1:1 with cabbage.

I would recommend preparing your cabbage and adding a sensible amount to your dish that balances the other ingredients. Around 2/3rds of the amount of original spinach would be a good start.

Ideas For Substituting Cabbage For Spinach

If you are going to substitute cabbage for spinach in a recipe, you can replace it on a 1:1 basis if raw and a little less if cooked. But be aware of how cabbage might change the intended flavor of the meal. 

If, however, you are simply looking for a way to add green leafy vegetables to your diet, try using cabbage as the main ingredient for side dishes instead of the classic creamed spinach.  

Sautéed Cabbage 

Try this recipe for Sautéed Cabbage as a great side dish. It is easy, healthy, versatile, and super tasty. Serve as a side with pork chops, chicken, or fish. To make it, simple sautée green cabbage in oil, with butter, cider vinegar, and thyme.

See the recipe – 4 Ingredient Sautéed Cabbage.

Cabbage Curry

Spinach in curry is really popular as the bitterness of the wilted spinach stands up great to lots of curry sauces. You can use cabbage in curries successfully as well. The cabbage leaves take on spices well and retain a nice texture. Try this one with coconut milk, garlic, and curry powder.

See the recipe – Cabbage Curry

Pasta

Spinach is often added to pasta dishes. Try a leafy green cabbage like Savoy cabbage to substitute this. The following recipe uses savoy cabbage, pancetta, and parmesan.

See the recipe – Reginetti with Savoy Cabbage and Pancetta

Greek Cabbage Pie with Dill and Feta 

Spanakopita is a popular savory Greek pie with light and crispy layers of phyllo pastry and a tasty filling of spinach and feta cheese. Try this alternative to the traditional spinach spanakopita with green cabbage.

See the recipe – Greek Cabbage Pie with Dill and Feta

What Else Can I Substitute For Spinach?

There are a few other options for substituting spinach and cabbage with other leafy greens. 

Lettuce As A Substitute For Spinach 

Dark, green lettuce is excellent in salads instead of raw spinach. You can try romaine or red leaf lettuces, which have a similar taste and texture to uncooked spinach. You can also use arugula (rocket) or watercress for a delicious green salad instead of raw spinach.

Chinese Chard

Regular spinach can be replaced with Chinese chard, also known as bok choy. It is delicate and flavorful and has excellent nutritional value. It has white or green, thick, crunchy stems with light to dark green broad leaves. You can eat the stems and the leaves of Chinese chard. It is also known as Chinese white cabbage, Chinese mustard cabbage, and pak choi.

Swiss Chard Or Beet Greens As A Substitute For Spinach 

Swiss chard and beet greens can be used in recipes that call for spinach. 

Swiss chard is not as tender as spinach, not quite as tough as kale. However, the stems are a bit on the tough side, so either discard or boil them. If they are not too tough, you can sauté them first to give them a little more cooking time before adding the leaves. 

Beet greens have scarlet stems with green leaves. They taste similar to Swiss chard but are sweeter. 

Turnip Greens Or Kale

Kale looks quite similar to spinach, but it is actually a type of cabbage. You will need to remove the tough center stalks before cooking. 

Turnip greens are slightly bitter than spinach when raw but become milder when cooked. You can prepare these vegetables the same way as spinach but allow for a longer cooking time.

Escarole or Sorrel As A Substitute For Spinach

Escarole or sorrel are also options. 

Escarole is a leafy green vegetable that can be served either raw or cooked. The darker outer leaves can be chewy and bitter, so they are best sautéed or braised. The inner, lighter-colored leaves of the escarole are a good choice for a salad. 

Sorrel has a sour, lemony flavor and is great in soups, stews, and curries. However, the color of sorrel fades when you cook it, so if the vibrant green is what you’re after, consider one of the other options.

Conclusion

Hopefully, I’ve answered whether you can substitute cabbage for spinach.

If you’re not a fan of spinach or don’t have access to it, worry not – there are a whole load of alternative leafy greens available that will work perfectly well as substitutes for Popeye’s favorite food.

If you’re out of ideas then try one of the great recipes in this article.

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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