Homey, healthy Braised Red Cabbage

by Marion on December 4, 2013

Red cabbage is quickly sautéed in butter and oil with onion, apple, pear and bay leaf, then braised with red wine, vinegar, cloves and sugar for a delicious, healthy side. Recipe below.


Red cabbage was one of the regular culinary parts of my childhood—I loved it and I still do. I am not saying that red cabbage is my madeleine, but when I am assembling this recipe, and when we dish it up, it never fails to give me a cozy sense of the comforts of home. Especially in winter, when the nights have drawn in, I love to have a pot simmering on the stove, on its way to being served alongside something simple and true like a roasted chicken or as a beautiful part of a vegetarian meal, alongside a savory socca pancake and steamed green beans, or a portobello sandwich.

Cabbage is a brassica, a huge horticultural family that has given us so many foods across so many cultures. The superfood kale is a brassica. Brussels sprouts, a perennial favorite here at Blue Kitchen, are part of this busy, hard-working family (when I was a kid some of our neighbors called them “baby cabbages,” a brilliant rebranding that had all the children in that family clamoring for more). Bok choy is the star of velvety Chinese soups and stir fries; Napa cabbage is the traditional essence of kimchi. Even turnips are part of the brassica family.

When cabbages are preserved, as sauerkraut or kimchi, they actually become healthier for you, as well as even more robust and flavorful. For nutritional impact, red cabbage outshines green cabbage—it’s jammed with vitamins, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants as well as fiber.

This dish is a hat tip to my mom’s red cabbage of yore, itself a version of traditional German rotkohl. I sliced the cabbage using our mandoline, which, frankly, scares the pants off me. (It’s even scarier to clean.) The mandoline did a beautiful job producing the thin, thin shreds I wanted, but mindfully using a knife would achieve that too.

When this dish is ready, it has a rich ruby color and a beautiful sheen. Even better, make it the day before you intend to serve it. It will taste amazing.

Braised Red Cabbage
Serves four to six

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 cups shredded red cabbage (a small head of cabbage)
1 tart apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 ripe pear, peeled, cored and chopped
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoons sugar (or possibly more)

Melt the butter and oil together in a big, heavy skillet that has a lid. Add the onions and bay leaf to the oil and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 90 seconds or so. Then add the cabbage, apple, and pear, and stir everything to coat with the oil.  Sauté it all, stirring and turning, until the cabbage is crunchy-cooked, about seven or eight minutes. Then all at once add the cloves, red wine, 1 tablespoon sugar and the red wine vinegar. Stir everything, cover tightly and turn the heat down to simmer over low.

This dish is best if it cooks for a long time. Check on it every now and then (don’t just walk away). If it seems very dry, add more wine or a little water. You don’t want a great flood of liquid, but you don’t want it to be bone dry either. Because the fruit in this recipe may vary in sweetness, you may also want to adjust the flavor by adding more sugar—we suggest starting out with just a tablespoon and then adding more later on if that seems right to your palate. Allow at least an hour of gentle simmering on the stovetop. At the end, it should be cloaked in liquid, with a little in the bottom of the pan. You can serve  as soon as 30 minutes from the start, but we like this when it cooks and melds together for at least an hour. Traditional versions of this dish cook for up to two hours.

Serve hot. If serving the next day, it can be gently reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop.

Kitchen Notes

Instead of an apple and a pear, you may use all pear or all apple.

I do not recommend honey for this dish—it will just not be the same.

Substitute for water? Yes. For some added umami, you can use a little chicken stock instead.

Doubles? Yes. If you choose a big head of cabbage, you definitely can scale this up. Use a light hand with the cloves, though. They can quickly overpower other flavors.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

randi December 4, 2013 at 11:01 am

I’m so glad you posted this. I don’t have a good recipe for it and I absolutely love it, growing up on it as well. Mom gives a different recipe every time I ask and it’s never the same. She doesn’t use recipes.
Making your cardamom beef stew tonight for tomorrow’s dinner. YUM!

[email protected] Riffs December 4, 2013 at 11:08 am

I agree with you about the mandoline – mine scares me too. Even when I use the guard I’m nervous, and cleaning it is always an adventure. I have one of those classic stainless French ones — I’ve thought about replacing it with one of the cheaper, less elaborate ones to see if that would be less scary. Doubt it. Anyway, terrific recipe! I don’t often make red cabbage, and it’s so great at this time of the year. I often make it with apple, but haven’t tried pear — I should do that. Thanks.

altadenahiker December 4, 2013 at 3:31 pm

This looks gorgeous! And very similar to the recipe I have; the major difference would be caraway seeds rather than cloves, beer instead of water. You’ve inspired me — I will make this.

Anita December 4, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Altadenahiker, whereas to me, the absence of caraway seeds made me consider trying it! There are a number of things I disliked eating as a kid that I now enjoy – brussels sprouts and beets come to mind. But sauerkraut is still on the ohthankyousomuch (take one teaspoonful) list. I disliked red cabbage because so often it was just more colorful sauerkraut – this recipe, however, seems possible… not so much sour, and no caraway!

jeri December 4, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I love braised red cabbage, but I never think to make it. Many thanks to you and all my favorite bloggers for reminding me about old favorites and introducing me to new ones.

Marion December 4, 2013 at 9:42 pm

All y’all, I hope you enjoy this recipe. Somehow caraway doesn’t seem right to me with cabbage. I love it in rye bread and goulashes, and a while back we had an out-of-this-world mushroom soup with caraway at the Lincoln Cafe in Mt. Vernon, Iowa which I have not been able to even approach, much less duplicate.

Randi, my mom would do the same thing – I think I only have one or two of her recipes definitively in writing. Enjoy the beef stew!

John, I have come to the conclusion that all mandolines are scary. This time I tried using a guard glove that usually sees action when I am cutting fabric with the rotary wheel – that actually was a totally clumsy failure, oh well.

Karin, I’ve never tried making red cabbage with beer – now that’s on my list.

Jeri, this is so simple that I hope you do try it.

Nishta December 5, 2013 at 11:31 am

Perfect timing! It’s about to get *very* cold here in Houston, and we were planning on cooking bratwurst for our Friday night dinner by the fire; I’m thinking this will make an excellent side.

Thank you!

Marion December 5, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Nishta, what a great idea! Stay warm. Sounds like it’s cold all over the country right now.

randi January 8, 2014 at 10:41 am

We had this on the weekend Marion. It was delicious! No leftovers!

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