Cabbage, wine and a not-so-bad apple

by Terry B on November 21, 2007

Wine-braised Red Cabbage with Apples balances sweet and sour ingredients with rich, savory touches for a complex, satisfying side dish. Recipe below.

A few days ago, I got to thinking about apples. Specifically about how they don’t do much for me. For whatever reason, they never have—especially in their raw, most apple-y state. I don’t think it’s a problem with apples themselves—it’s probably more of a character flaw on my part. Certainly in the store, they are alluring. So many varieties and colors stacked high in dazzling displays of autumnal plenty. And that satisfyingly distinctive, crisp crunch of biting into an apple promises so much. But that’s where it ends for me. Then I’m left with nothing more than a mouthful of, well, apple.

But then I got to thinking that perhaps incorporating them into something savory and cooked might tame their tart sweetness and turn it into a positive note in a dish for me.

Of course, once something pops up on your radar screen, you start spotting it everywhere. Most notably, Aimee over at Under The High Chair posted a russet apple and gouda grilled cheese sandwich that looked so delicious I was ready to devour it on the spot, raw apple slices and all. I also thought that some crisp, thick bacon slices would make this sandwich even more wonderful. But then bacon is my answer for everything these days, isn’t it?

Bacon plays a role in this side dish, the latest in the ongoing semi-irregular A Little Something on the Side series. I can’t remember now how my search for a savory dish with apples took the direction of red cabbage, but when I saw a Bon Appétit recipe that included a little bacon and loads of butter, I figured I’d found what I was looking for. I had. The single slice of bacon imparts a subtle rustic quality. You may be tempted to add more, but it’s not needed and can in fact overpower the dish. And if you want to go vegetarian with this dish, you can certainly leave the bacon out—the butter provides a lovely, velvety finish that would stand well on its own. Oh. And the apple? It wasn’t half bad, even to me.

Wine-braised Red Cabbage with Apples
Makes 2 to 3 servings [see Kitchen Notes]

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage [see Kitchen Notes]
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and thinly sliced [see Kitchen Notes]
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 bacon slice, chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add cabbage, apple, onion and bacon. Sauté until cabbage is crisp-tender, about 6 minutes.

Add wine, vinegar, bay leaf and allspice and gently stir to blend. Cover and cook until liquid evaporates and cabbage is tender, about 10 minutes. Season cabbage mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

2-1/2 cups of cabbage = 4 servings? I don’t think so. But that’s what the original recipe claimed. Let me start by saying that Marion and I are not big eaters. Dinner was one roasted chicken thigh each, a small hunk of a baguette and this cabbage. Which we devoured completely. Perhaps if we’d also had another side—mashed potatoes, for instance—and maybe a small salad to begin, the cabbage might have stretched to serve three. But not four.

Slicing the cabbage. I wanted the cabbage in elegantly thin strips. So I peeled off a couple of outer leaves to get to nice, shiny, purple-red leaves underneath and sliced the entire head in half lengthwise. Then I used a mandoline to shred it. A little more than a quarter of the entire head provided the generous 2-1/2 cups I needed. And since I had it out, I used the mandoline to slice the onion too—quick, easy and elegantly thin.

Why Granny Smith? As apples go, Granny Smiths are nice and tart, so they play well with cabbage, wine and vinegar. There’s no overpowering sweetness here.

Tampering with the original. The recipe as I found it sounded promising, but a little plain. A mere 1/2cup of apples [chopped, not sliced], 1/4 cup of onion and no bay leaf, no allspice. Instead, it called for honey [with the allspice, it wasn’t needed] and grated potato, which sounded downright unappetizing. So as any self-respecting home cook does, I tampered. And I’m glad I did.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen

Car Tunes. What do you listen to when you’re driving? Let us know, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

Eating our way through California. Some of the delicious highlights, at WTF? Random food for thought.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia November 21, 2007 at 1:34 pm

I can’t imagine life without apples, so yes, we have to find ways for you to enjoy them. Apples are wonderful in baked things like cakes, where the apples are not left whole but are used for sweetening. Same with chili — use apple juice in place of some of the broth.

Christine November 21, 2007 at 1:39 pm

I like trying different apples and I’m into trying different recipes with apples so this one is perfect! I love it and I’m glad you tampered. It looks like you made some really good changes so I’ll definitely try it your way.

Jennifer Hess November 21, 2007 at 3:14 pm

We started doing something similar last fall when we found ourselves with TWO giant heads of red cabbage and no clue how to use them (long story). I add a little bit of grainy mustard to the braising liquid, which amps up the vinegar flavor a bit.

sueorkin November 21, 2007 at 3:24 pm

That picture doesn’t look anything like what it is… – Sue Orkin

Patricia Scarpin November 21, 2007 at 5:17 pm

This dish looks wonderful, Terry – and bacon IS the solution for everything. I love it and I don’t even eat pork. 😀

Toni November 21, 2007 at 5:22 pm

What perfect timing! I bought granny smiths yesterday! I’ve made a variation of this dish in the past, but I don’t remember adding bacon (you’re right – it makes everything stellar!). I like Jennifer’s idea of adding some mustard to the braising liquid, so when I try this one, I’ll tinker with the tamper.

Hope you and Marion have a great Thanksgiving!

Terry B November 21, 2007 at 7:13 pm

Lydia—I’ll admit I have had a few things with apples that I liked. And I am a fan of applesauce, so I’m not a total loss.

Christine—Thanks! If you’ve got any good apple recipes, I’m game to try some more.

Jennifer—I can just picture the tang of the mustard in this. Sounds like a good addition.

Patricia—As I’ve said in the past, bacon can even lead vegetarians astray. It’s that good.

Toni—Thanks! And a happy Thanksgiving to you too.

ann November 22, 2007 at 12:09 am

love love love love love cabbage and apples together. Toss in some bacon? ooooh boy! I might just roll around in it! Have a happy, delicious and relaxing Thanksgiving Terry & Co.

Nicole November 22, 2007 at 4:56 pm

Sounds delicious! I love red cabbage and always put it in my green salads as well as coleslaw. But I have never cooked it! I’m definitely saving this one and I’ll be trying it soon! I hope you and Marion have a wonderful wonderful Thanksgiving!

Christina November 23, 2007 at 6:15 am

I hope you’ve had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Cabbage and bacon are always a good combo–apples sound like a great way to finish it off.

Carolyn November 26, 2007 at 5:13 pm


Oh, I’ll bet you’ve never received the perfect gift for your current food mood: a box of bacon strip bandages!

Terry B November 26, 2007 at 7:20 pm

Ann—Be careful what you wear. Red cabbage will stain, especially with the red wine.

Nicole and Christina—We had a lovely Thanksgiving. Hope you did too.

Carolyn—I’ve actually given them as a gift!

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