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, cut crosswise in slivers
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
1 granny smith apple (unpeeled), cored, diced (1/4 inch/0.5 cm)
2 lb
(1 kg) trimmed red cabbage, thinly shredded
1/4 cup (60 mL) cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
About 2 tbsp (30 mL) apple or red currant jelly
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In large pan, cook bacon, stirring often, on medium heat 3 to 4 minutes, until starting to turn crisp. Add onion and 1 tsp (5 mL) salt. Cook, stirring often, 2 minutes, or until softened. Stir in sugar, caraway and cloves. 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 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 jelly and pepper. Adjust salt. Adjust jelly.

Serve immediately. Or cool to room temperature, transfer to storage tub, cover and refrigerate.

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.

Kitchen Secrets: As well as adding tartness, vinegar helps the cabbage retain its majestic purple colour.

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.