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.
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.