I’d never eaten braised red cabbage until three nights ago – and I’ve already made it twice. On a whim, I had bought a pretty little head of red cabbage, and I needed a side dish to go with a beef Stroganoff I was making. It seemed to me that the astringency of a sweet-and-sour preparation would be a nice contrast to the rich creaminess of the pasta.
A bit of online searching turned up a well-reviewed recipe, Grandma Jeanette’s Amazing German Red Cabbage. Everyone loved it – and even better, there was an astonishingly small amount of prep work. Chop the cabbage, chop the apple, throw them in a pot with a few other simple ingredients, and let it simmer.
It was that easy. And that good: savory, sweet, sour, and addictive. The Stroganoff was great, but it was the cabbage I couldn’t stop thinking about. So much so that when I needed a dish for today’s staff potluck, it was the first thing I thought of. I wasn’t sure how a big bowl of cabbage would go over with my coworkers, but there were great comments and almost no leftovers. This would be a great Thanksgiving side dish: colorful and easy to prepare. It also reheats beautifully and tastes delicious at room temperature.
The first time I made this, I reduced the cooking time to about 45 minutes because that’s how much time I had. The second time, I cooked it for the 90 minutes the original recipe required. The flavor is more intense after the longer time, but the texture more toothsome with the shorter. Both are delicious. I added balsamic vinegar to amp up the flavor, but please don’t use the good stuff here. I used a bottle from Trader Joe’s that cost me three bucks. If you don’t have any low-grade balsamic, just substitute more red wine vinegar, and use all brown sugar for a more complex sweetness.
The original recipe was a little more specific with the amount of cabbage (five cups) and apple (one cup), but this is not a recipe that needs great accuracy. It’s simple and homey and doesn’t require much of you… but it gives plenty back.
Easy Braised Sweet-and-Sour Red Cabbage
Serves: 6 as a side dish Time: 60 to 120 minutes Hands-on: 10 minutes
1 small to medium head cabbage
1 medium tart apple
2 tablespoons butter or neutral oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons cheap balsamic vinegar (or more red wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 heaping teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon (or several good grinds) black pepper
3 whole cloves
Cut the cabbage into quarters through the core, and cut out the core by removing a wedge from the base of each piece. Slice the quartered cabbage thinly. Core and slice the apple.
Place the cabbage, apple, and all remaining ingredients in a large pot. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste the cabbage. If it’s too acidic, add another tablespoon of sugar (or two, depending how sweet you like it). You can serve it as it is, or simmer for up to another 45 minutes. If there’s much liquid in the bottom, and you have time, remove the lid, turn the heat to medium-high, and let simmer another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to concentrate the flavor.
Serve hot or at room temperature as a colorful, zesty side.