December 14, 2015

Old World Red Cabbage

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Christmas dinner is not all about the turkey. On my table, the side dishes are like the presents
under the tree — plentiful and colourful. I serve a wide array of vegetables, and they get a lot of respect. For the British side of the family, it wouldn’t be Christmas without Brussels sprouts. The Hungarian and German contingents can’t do without braised, sweet-and-sour red cabbage. Complex, assertive and vibrant, it beautifully  complements turkey, as well as duck, goose, pork and game. At the stove, I always hemmed, hawed and hovered between sweet/tart German red cabbage or a more savoury Hungarian braise spiked with caraway seeds. Eventually, I came up with this hybrid. It truly captures the best of the Old World recipes. Of course, you don’t have to wait until Christmas to enjoy it.

2 slices bacon, thinly cut crosswise
1 large yellow onion, halved, thinly sliced
2 tsp (10 mL) or more kosher salt
1 tbsp (15 mL) dark brown sugar
1 tsp (15 mL) ground caraway
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) ground cloves/allspice
1 granny smith apple (unpeeled), cored, diced (1/4 in/0.5 cm)
2 lb
(1 kg) trimmed red cabbage, thinly shredded
1/4 cup (60 mL) cider vinegar/red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp (30 mL) or more apple/red currant jelly
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped parsley

In large pan, cook bacon, stirring often, on medium heat 5 minutes, or until crisp and browned. Using slotted spoon, transfer to plate lined with paper towel. Drain.

Add onion and 1 tsp (5 mL) salt to bacon fat. Cook, stirring often, 3 minutes, or until golden. Stir in sugar, caraway and cloves or allspice. Add apple. Add cabbage in batches, stirring after each addition until coated. Add 1 tsp (5 mL) salt. Cook, stirring often, 5 minutes, or until cabbage wilts and looks moist. Stir in cider or red wine vinegar and bay leaf. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 to 60 minutes, until cabbage is very tender.

Discard bay leaf. Stir in 2 tbsp (30 mL) apple or red currant jelly, and pepper to taste. Adjust salt. Adjust jelly.

Serve immediately. Or cool to room temperature, transfer to storage tub, cover and refrigerate. Before serving, sprinkle with bacon bits and parsley.

Makes 7 cups (1.75 L).

Shopping Cart: Buy an extra-small cabbage or cut chunks from a larger one.

Tool Time: I shred the cabbage using a mandolin. Food processors tend to shred it into strands that are too fine and short. However, the slicing blade of some food processors does the job. The cooking time may vary, but if your cabbage takes longer than 1 hour, it is not shredded thinly enough.

A Dash of Science: Acid strengthens the pectin that holds together the cell walls. So you could shave 15 to 30 minutes off the time by cooking the cabbage for half an hour before adding the vinegar – but only do this if you are in a particular hurry. As well as adding tartness, vinegar helps the cabbage retain its majestic purple colour. Red cabbage is actually purple, due to the healthful anthocyanins it contains. When cooked in an alkaline liquid, the cabbage can turn an unappetizing bluish shade. Acid counteracts that effect.

Oh No: Bacon adds a delicious hint of smokiness, but using too much can give the cabbage a greasy, matte appearance. For glassy (or vegan) cabbage, you can use oil instead of bacon.

Make-Ahead: Luckily, braised red cabbage tastes better the next day. So you can prep it in advance. You could also freeze it to await the arrival of Christmas or another feast.