Almost my whole life I’ve regarded braised red cabbage with an upturned nose. Without an experience on which to base my opinion, I lumped it in with the likes of sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage rolls and Brussels sprouts as another icky, smelly food to stay far away from.
A few weeks ago, my CSA provided us with a head of red cabbage. All summer I would have turned this into coleslaw, probably my Firecracker Coleslaw. But now it’s fall and I’m cooking up a month of German food for Octoberfest (never mind that the official Octoberfest lasted from September 21st to October 6th and is now over; I love an excuse to celebrate!) I decided that a pot of traditional Rotkohl or braised red cabbage was the perfect way to use my head of cabbage.
I realize now that I’ve been unfair to this colorful side. It’s not icky but deliciously sweet and sour. Because of the acid, it is a lovely side for rich savory meat and poultry dishes going equally as well with roast duck, Salisbury steak or it’s classic counterpart; Sauerbraten. It’s easy to make, hard to mess up and adapts well with adjustments for personal taste. For example, if you hate the flavor of thyme, then try it with a few sage leaves or a teaspoon of juniper berries instead. If you don’t cook with wine, substitute more apple cider and an extra tablespoon of vinegar.
There are a few rules with braised red cabbage though. First, make sure you use enough acid. Red cabbage is full of anthocyanin, a substance that changes colors depending on pH. So, if your cabbage isn’t acidic enough, you’ll end up with blueish-gray (and icky) cabbage. Second, balance the acid with just enough sugar to make it pleasant without turning it into cabbage candy. And finally, cook it long enough to tenderize the tough cabbage without turning the whole pot into purple mush.
For my version, I use a combination of apples, apple cider, red wine and vinegar to provide the acid. All of these ingredients contain tons of flavor and plenty of acid; but they also contain a lot of sugar. So much so, that only a little extra sugar is needed. Onions add an additional layer of flavor along with bay leaves and thyme. To make the dish, all you need to do is saute the onions and apples for a few minutes then throw everything else in the pot and come back in 75 minutes. It’s a great side to start before the rest of dinner and have done right in time to eat.
Are you a cabbage hater too? You may be surprised with this dish; it may just convert you too. Enjoy!
This recipe goes well with one of my all-time favorite Cooking Light recipes: Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy