Monday, October 23, 2006

The World's Best Red Cabbage

In a college cafeteria (sigh) many years ago I had an exciting dish that permanently changed my view of cabbage. Called “Belgian Red Cabbage”, this previously low vegetable was braised with apples and was sort of sweet and sour. Over the years (while I came to recognize that green cabbage can be elegant if fixed right, too), I’ve learned that red cabbage with apples is not just Belgian, but is also German and appears in many northern and central European cuisines. Traditionally it is an autumn and winter specialty, given when the key ingredients are available, and accompanies rich meat dishes. In Berlin one December I had it with fragrant roast goose and potato dumplings – at a Czech restaurant.

Through trial and error I’ve arrived at my favorite rendering of red cabbage. It has a gorgeous ruby color, tangy sweetness, and warming fragrances of orange and spices. I do not use oil or fat in the cabbage (where do you find goose grease these days, anyway?) so it’s even healthy as well as beautiful. The cabbage is best made ahead, allowed to mellow, and reheated to serve.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage with Apple (Rotkohl mit Apfel) Tim

1 medium red cabbage
1 large apple
4-inch strip of orange zest, peeled from an organic or well-scrubbed orange
10 whole allspice berries
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Salt to taste
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar

Quarter the cabbage, cut out and discard the core. Shred cabbage finely. Peel, quarter, and core the apple and chop the quarters into small pieces. In a stainless steel or enamel (not aluminum or cast iron) pot bring the cabbage, apples, orange peel, allspice, pepper, about 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup water to a boil. Simmer, covered, stirring from time to time until cabbage is tender and the apple has broken up (about 20 min). Remove orange peel plus the allspice berries as you see them. Add the vinegar and sugar plus salt to taste. Simmer about 5 minutes, then taste and readjust sugar, vinegar, and salt. The color will become a bright crimson red. The flavor should be delicately sweet-sour. The dish is best if made ahead, refrigerated, and reheated to serve. Recheck the salt before serving.

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