Now that I’ve told you the Red Cabbage Story, I guess it’s time to share my recipe with you. Red cabbage is perfect for the Christmas dinner table, even if you’re not German. First, I mean, gosh, it’s so pretty!
Red cabbage is a terrific alternative to the ubiquitous sauerkraut that is generally served with “German” meals in our country. If you’re planning a Germanic dinner with bratwurst, sauerbraten, rouladen, or some such; and with a starchy side of potatoes or spaetzel; then red cabbage can complete the “trinity” quite nicely. The sweetness of the cabbage especially complements pork dishes, the way fried apples do.
It’s not rocket science to fix this, though you do need to shred the cabbage. If you have a lot of time, you could schnittle it up with a sharp chef’s knife. But I use a Joyce Chen mandoline—it’s not the Rolls Royce of kitchen equipment, but like my trusty Honda Civic, it works fine. With this and all shredding devices, you need to be very careful not to slice off parts of your knuckles, fingertips, fingernails, etc. (Trust me, it’s easy to do, and it happens very quickly. I’m just sayin’. . .)
To shred it, I quarter the red cabbage first, then start shredding from the top part of each quarter, where the leaves are the loosest, then work my way down to the core. Again: be careful.
One time I had some cooked red cabbage that had been “shredded” with a food processor on “pulse”—the cabbage had been turned into dots of confetti instead of thin little shreds. It tasted okay, but the texture was pretty horrible.
Some recipes for cooked red cabbage—even ones from fairly reputable cookbook publishers—say to add the vinegar while you are cooking the cabbage. And I’m telling you: Don’t try it.
It’s just like when you’re cooking beans: If you add a bunch of salt, or acidic ingredients, or alcohol (red wine, for instance) at the beginning of the cooking, you only lengthen the cooking time. Pickled veggies get their “crunch” from vinegar. So adding vinegar before your red cabbage is tender only makes it stay hard, longer. So don’t do it. Tough cabbage isn’t any more fun than tough beans!
I repeat: Cook the shredded cabbage in just a bit of plain water, first, and then add the vinegar at the end. Got it?
By the way, you will love how adding the vinegar at the end causes the cabbage to shift from purple to red. It’s really cool.
And of course, the apples are optional. I don’t think Grandma Schroeder added apples when she cooked red cabbage. But they are a nice touch.
Also, as you can see from the pictures, last time I made red cabbage, early in the cooking I threw in a handful of lovely, huge golden raisins I bought at an international market. They were a wonderful addition! (I’m not sure that black raisins would look as appetizing, however.)
And no, this is not an heirloom recipe, which is rather sad. I wasn’t interested in cooking when Grandma was still alive and still creating her wonderful meals, so I didn’t follow her around the kitchen with a notepad the way I should have. Alas.
So this recipe is essentially from one of my mom’s cookbooks. I’ve altered it somewhat, reducing the apples quite a bit, for one thing. Also, the book doesn’t specify the type of vinegar, but I insist on using apple cider vinegar. (And I’ve found that Heinz, as a matter of fact, is indeed much more flavorful than generic.) Grandma didn’t use red wine vinegar or any of that high-falutin’ stuff!
The book reports that it makes about six servings. When I have my big sauerbraten dinners for fifteen to twenty, I have doubled it, depending on how big the cabbages are at the store and how badly I want leftovers. Also, of course, how much cabbage people eat depends on how many other side dishes you’re serving!
In my family, it is customary for most people to take seconds of the red cabbage!
—Yeah. It’s that special.
Cooked Red Cabbage with Apples
Adapted from Bountiful Harvest, by Mary Beth Jung (Reiman Publications, 1994).
1 to 2 1/2 lbs. red cabbage, shredded (about 1 head)
3/4 to 1 cup boiling (or very hot) water
1 large cooking apple, sliced in thin pieces
3 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. salt
dash of pepper
Put cabbage into a large saucepan; pour boiling or very hot water over, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the apples; cook another 10 minutes or so or until cabbage and apples are tender. Add remaining ingredients, stirring gently to combine, and heat through.
You can prepare for this ahead of time: I’ve added spaces in the ingredients list to show groups that can be prepared the night before your dinner and stored together: Shred the cabbage and put it in one plastic bag. Slice the apple, dash a little of the vinegar on it so it doesn’t turn brown, and store that in another plastic bag. Put the butter and vinegar in a little storage bowl and put in the fridge. Then measure and store the dry ingredients on the counter. This way, putting the dish together the next day is easy-peasy, a back-burner affair.