Not too long ago, I walked into my parents’ house and immediately caught wafts of the most fantastic aroma coming from (as always) the kitchen. I started sticking my fingers into each of the dishes sitting on the dining room table, eager to find the source. After trying most everything else on the table, I nonchalantly scooped up a pinch of cooked red cabbage, thinking not even a little that it might actually be the culprit. Boy, was I surprised. Divine, I tell you! And I don’t use that word all too often…but this truly is a recipe for the ages.
Turns out, it’s also dead simple; go figure. At my persistent begging, my mom passed along the recipe she’d used to make it. I tweaked it, as I am often wont to do, because when I see an ingredient in the fridge and think it might add something, I’ve no self control, not even an ounce. And while sometimes that habit ruins otherwise tasty cooking (insert gross story here), other times, I’m rewarded for my impulses. This cabbage most definitely benefited from my hyperactive ingredient-adding tendency.
According to the basic recipe (which itself is quite lovely), red cabbage cooks until soft and fork-tender in a mix of tomatoes, red wine vinegar, sugar, onions, and raisins. Out of raisins, I used dried cranberries, which were nice (though I think I’d try it with raisins next time, since I bet they’re just dandy). I also added more than a splash of dry red wine, which gave the dish noticeable depth of flavor and helped cut the straightforward sweet-sour dichotomy with a hint of bitterness. I also subbed in red onions for the yellow onions in the original recipe, because that’s what was lying around my house. Red onions also have a slight bitterness to them, which wasn’t obvious to my dull palate but may have done some good (who knows?). Last but not least — here’s the real show-stealer — I added a generous sprinkling of pomegranate seeds to the finished dish, just before serving. Their ruby-red color and gem-like shape lent a decadence to an otherwise homey dish, their tangy-sweet flavor mingled lovely with the cabbage juices, and their crunch gave the final product important textural contrast. Needless to say, I was happy with the outcome — and the dish got overwhelming positive feedback from my lunch guests (one of whom is notoriously, um, selective — love you, T!) I’ll be making this dish when pomegranates are available as much as possible.
Braised Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
1 apple, chopped
1 red cabbage, sliced pretty thinly
2 cups onions
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp olive oil
3 or more cups water
3 cups tomatoes (I used canned)
2/3 cup raisins or craisins
1/2 cup plus a couple Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar or brown sugar
salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine, to taste
the seeds of 1 pomegranate
In large pot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until translucent and fragrant. Add cabbage, 2 cups of water, and remaining ingredients except pomegranate and salt. Cover and ignore. Seriously. You want the cabbage to soften and break down a bit, and the other flavors to meet and mingle. Check occasionally, and add water as needed to prevent sticking. In all, the cabbage should take about an hour; you want it really soft and fragrant, and you want the scent to be mellow and rich. Promise — it’s really delicious when it’s finished. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
At this point, you can store the cabbage in the fridge for up to two weeks or in the freezer forever (did I just say that?)
Immediately before serving, sprinkle the pomegranate seeds overtop and toss to incorporate. You won’t be sorry.