I don’t remember red cabbage ever appearing on my plate as I was growing up. I do remember the jar of sharp mouth puckering picked red cabbage which would arrive every Christmas to bleed over cold turkey on Boxing Day with various other pickles which would float around in the jar until well into the New Year when they would be relinquished to the dustbin. In fact it’s not a vegetable we have very often but every time we do I always think that we should.
There is something about red cabbage which makes me happy. I think it is the colour of those tightly packed leaves promising to provide you with a lovely crunchy salad when eaten raw and a warming, comforting, sour yet sweet accompaniment to a roast dinner or with cold meat the following day. It always amazes me that they are so cheap to buy and will sit around for weeks just waiting for you to do something with it. It doesn’t complain it just sits there being overlooked for its green cousins which are thought to be easier and quicker to prepare. Then eventually when it is plucked from the vegetable rack and showed a bit of love it rewards you with a wonderful flavour and questions why you don’t use it more often.
Shredded finely and tossed in a favourite dressing be it alone or mixed with white cabbage, carrots, fennel, onion then stuffed into a baked potato or a flatbread it never fails to satisfy. What’s even better is that both the Small People really like it and will take spoonfuls onto their plates where they are not so bothered by lettuce. Always a winner.
Last weekend I decided that the red cabbage that has been waiting on the sidelines of Mama’s Kitchen deserved to share a starring role with a roast loin of pork (Yes, followers will note that this is the piece of pork that didn’t make it to the oven a few weeks ago and was hastily shoved into the freezer – it made its entrance last weekend none the worse for wear).
I actually made this the night before as one can rewarm it quite easily and it quite enjoys sitting around letting the flavours develop. It can be rewarmed on the stove or in the popty ping.
I like to shred the cabbage with a knife but feel free to cut it in chunks too. Add a glug of olive oil and a large knob of butter into a heavy based saucepan on a medium heat. Add some nice warm spices – I used two cloves; a good grating of nutmeg; a cinnamon stick (or a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon); I also added a teaspoon of fennel seeds as I was adding some to the pork. Warm the spices and then tumble in the cabbage and stir it all together so the cabbage glistens. Add two eating apples (which you have peeled cored and shredded to the same shape as your cabbage); a red onion sliced finely; two to three tablespoons of sugar (muscovado if you have it is good don’t worry if not); Pour in around 150ml of vinegar I used a mix of white wine and apple cider as it is what we had but balsamic or red wine works too; a heaped tablespoon of chutney; red currant jelly or cranberry adds an extra dimension. Stir well. Cover. Lower the heat and let it quietly simmer for an hour giving it an occasional stir. The aroma will soon pervade the house making your mouth water and you will become impatient to taste the pan of jewel coloured yumminess. After an hour do a taste test, season and check the balance of sweet to sour and tweak if needed. The cabbage should be soft.
That’s it – it’s ready. You can tuck in now or whenever you want. Feel free to swap and change the spices to your taste – traditionally red cabbage has been made with those warm Christmas spices, but don’t be afraid to add your own twist.
I served this to the family with roast pork and all the trimmings. Small Girl announced with the suspicion of a three-year old, ‘I don’t want that’. I gave my stock answer, ‘that’s ok but you have to try it, if you don’t like it then ok but you must try or you won’t know’. In fact I say this so often that Small Boy was paraphrasing it along with me! And the result – Small Girl was returning to the serving dish again and again, announcing, ‘Mmm I like this Mama!’. Bargain!