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. 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
1 tbsp (15 mL) dark brown sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) or more kosher salt
1 tsp (15 mL) ground caraway
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) ground cloves
2 lb (1 kg) thinly shredded red cabbage
1 granny smith apple (unpeeled), cored, cut in 1/4-inch (0.5 cm) dice
1/4 cup (60 mL) apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
About 1 tbsp (15 mL) apple or red currant jelly, to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

In large pan, cook bacon on medium heat, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes, until starting to turn crisp. Add onion. Cook, stirring often, 2 minutes, or until softened. Stir in sugar, 1 tsp (5 mL) salt, caraway and cloves. Add cabbage and apple. Cook, stirring often, 5 minutes, or until cabbage wilts and looks moist. Stir in vinegar and bay leaf. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes, or until cabbage is very tender.
Discard bay leaf. Stir in jelly and pepper. Adjust salt.

Serve immediately. Or cool, transfer to storage tub and refrigerate until the next day.

Makes 5-1/2 cups (1.375 L).

  • Buy an extra-small cabbage or cut chunks from a larger one. I shred the cabbage using a mandolin. Food processors tend to shred it into strands that are too fine and short. However, you could try using the slicing blade of your food processor.
  • Vinegar sets the vibrant red colour of the cabbage, as well as adding tartness.
  • Bacon adds a delicious hint of smokiness, but using too much can give cabbage a greasy, matte appearance. For glassy (or vegetarian) cabbage, you can use oil instead of bacon.
  • Luckily, braised red cabbage tastes better the next day. You can prep it in advance. You could also freeze it to await the arrival of Christmas or another feast.

Credit: Susan Sampson
Tested in Imperial