Remember a couple of weeks back when I was writing about browned cabbage?
Aw shucks, you flatter me, you know could have just said ‘yes’ instead of telling me how you hang on my every word… Okay okay, fine, just kidding. I’ll remind you then. I mentioned that my delicious red cabbage recipe was a family secret, and that I was still deliberating about whether to share it. Well, I have consulted with my mother, who is the supreme keeper of all family traditions, and she has resoundingly said that, in fact, I must share it. Apparently she instantaneously decided that getting people to eat more cabbage by sharing our delicious recipes for it will be my family’s contribution to improving the health of the world (we’re not prone to exaggeration at all).
You see, cabbage really is ridiculously good for you, kind of like leafy greens. It belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables (along with broccoli and Brussels sprouts), which, it so happens, I just saw on some list in a popular magazine as being one of the top 10 foods for the next year because of their beneficial health properties. Cruciferous vegetables are low calorie (you’d half to eat many CUPS of cabbage to reach the number of calories in a cookie) and high in lots of vitamins and minerals and fiber (mmmm). They’re also known to fight cancer because they’re abundant in several potent phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients), including isothiocyanates – which is a very fun term to bring up at parties because it will make you sound very smart, and even more importantly it kind of sounds like the name of some variety of dinosaur. Also, in a nod to the upcoming New Year, in several cultures eating cabbage is believed to bring luck in the New Year. Plus, I’ve read that the ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed that eating cabbage could prevent hangovers! (I’m not suggesting anything…I just thought I’d let you know.)
The difficult (or maybe fun) thing about sharing the cherished red cabbage recipe is that making it well completely hinges on the cook taste testing at intervals and adjusting the flavorings according to their tastes. Need more sweet? Add more syrup or jam. Need more sour? Add more vinegar! Need more salt? Just add more salt! The other important thing to know about this cabbage is that it gets better and better each time you reheat it (though it’s still good to start with). So, if you really want the best results make a big pot a day early, or at least plan on enjoying the leftovers for an extra dinner or two (or I often bring Tupper wares of it to have with lunch). It also takes at least an hour of cooking to reach optimal softening and flavoring, so what I usually do is get it cooking on the stove, then go off and do something else for a while, then come back and prepare the rest of the supper, and then finish off the cabbage. But, because of the long cooking time, I usually make it on the weekend, but then may save it and serve it Monday or Tuesday, or both!
Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage (serves about 6)
These measurements are VERY approximate. Taste the cabbage after it has cooked a while (once it is pretty soft) and adjust the seasonings to your taste. Then let it cook a bit longer, and taste it once more before serving, adjusting the flavors once again. Serves around 8 as a side dish.
- 1-2 Tbs. butter
- 1 large head of red cabbage
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (or another type of sweet vinegar – balsamic, rice, or red wine)
- 1 very large apple or two small apples, cored, seeded, and chopped into small chunks
- ¼ cup of real maple syrup, or if you have no syrup you can use fruit jam (a red fruit like strawberry or raspberry is best), honey, or brown sugar
- 1 tsp. caraway seeds (caraway tastes a little licorice-y, so if you have no caraway you could also try fennel, or anise seed, or maybe a couple of whole cloves)
- Salt to taste (a couple of teaspoons)
- Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage, then cut the cabbage in half and cut out the stemmy core. At this point if you have a food processor your life will be much easier because you can shred the cabbage a chunk at a time and put it in a large pot. If you don’t have a food processor, slice each half into quarters, and slice each quarter thinly.
- Put all the cabbage into a large pot with the butter, add the rest of the ingredients, cover, and turn heat to medium-high. Once you notice that the pot is steaming, turn it down to a simmer, leaving it covered. Stir the cabbage once in a while, but otherwise you can go about the rest of your life for another hour, or up to several hours, as the cabbage simmers away.
- Taste the cabbage and adjust seasonings to your preferences before serving. This is a classic northern, wintery dish. It’s a wonderful side dish for simple (ie. no spices from too close to the equator!) pork, beef, sausage, poultry, or fish dishes, and root vegetables (potatoes, yams, parsnips, rutabagas…).