Red cabbage is an underrated vegetable that deserves more time in the spotlight. When braised or cooked in a sweet and sour sauce, it transforms into a delicious side dish that adds a pop of color and flavor to any meal. In this blog post, we’ll explore the wonders of sweet and sour red cabbage – from its health benefits to simple cooking methods that bring out its best qualities.
An Introduction to Red Cabbage
Red cabbage is a versatile cruciferous vegetable packed with nutrition. It belongs to the Brassica family along with broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts. The reddish-purple color comes from anthocyanins – antioxidant pigments that have been linked to many health benefits. Compared to green cabbage, red cabbage contains almost 10 times more vitamin C and vitamin A. It’s also a good source of vitamin K, potassium, iron and fiber.
Some of the top health benefits of red cabbage include:
- High in antioxidants to fight free radical damage
- May lower inflammation and risk of certain cancers
- Good for heart health due to anthocyanins and potassium
- Supports digestive and gut health with fiber and probiotics
- Contains vitamin C for immune system function
- Has sulfur compounds that may detoxify the liver
When eaten raw, red cabbage has a peppery, crunchy texture and slightly bitter taste. Cooking mellows out the flavor and brings out the cabbage’s natural sweetness. Braising, roasting, sautéing and pickling are some of the best cooking methods for red cabbage.
What Makes Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage So Delicious?
Sweet and sour is a classic flavor combination that works magic on red cabbage. When cooked in a vinegar, sugar and spice infused broth, the red cabbage softens up into tender, juicy pieces with a tangy sweet taste. Here’s what makes this dish so addictively delicious:
The sweetness – A touch of sugar, honey, fruits or sweet veggies like apples or carrots balances out the tartness and brings out the natural subtle sweetness of red cabbage.
The sourness – Splashes of vinegar or lemon juice give the red cabbage a bright, acidic kick that cuts through its richness. Popular options are apple cider, red wine, rice or balsamic vinegars.
Umami flavor – Sautéing the cabbage in butter, oil or bacon fat before braising adds a savory, earthy flavor. Onions, garlic, mushrooms and soy sauce also boost the umami taste.
Warm spices – Aromatic spices like cinnamon, allspice, cloves, caraway or nutmeg complement the sweet and sour notes. Black pepper adds a little heat.
Texture – Braising and cooking the cabbage low and slow softens it up while retaining a bit of crunch. The shredded or chopped pieces soak up the flavors of the sauce.
Color – The vibrant purple color livens up any bland looking plate. As the cabbage cooks, the color deepens to a jewel-toned ruby hue.
When all these elements come together through the cooking process, the resulting sweet and sour red cabbage is an easy, versatile and crowd-pleasing side!
How to Make Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
Making sweet and sour red cabbage at home is simple. Here is an overview of the easy process:
- 1 small head of red cabbage
- 1 onion
- 2 apples
- Butter or oil for cooking
- Chicken or vegetable broth
- Vinegar (apple cider, white wine, etc.)
- Sugar, honey or maple syrup
- Warm spices (cinnamon, allspice, etc.)
- Salt and pepper
- Remove tough outer leaves from cabbage head. Quarter and core cabbage, then shred or thinly slice into pieces. Peel and slice onion. Core and chop apples.
- Melt 1-2 tbsp butter or oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, 3-5 minutes.
- Add shredded cabbage and apples. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Pour in enough broth to just cover cabbage mixture. Add in vinegar, sugar/honey, spices, salt and pepper.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 45 mins – 1 hour, until cabbage is very tender, stirring occasionally.
- If sauce is too thin, increase heat to reduce and thicken liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
- Serve warm as a side dish with main entrées like roasts, chops, schnitzel or sausage. Also delicious the next day.
With this easy cooking method, the red cabbage becomes infused with sweet and sour flavor. Its volume also reduces by half or more as it cooks down. The result is a tender, flavorful side dish that pairs well with a variety of mains.
Recipe Variations and Ideas
One of the great things about sweet and sour red cabbage is how versatile it is. There are many ways to adapt the basic recipe:
- Switch up the vinegar – balsamic, rice, red wine, champagne
- Use lemon juice and zest for acidity
- Try different sweeteners – brown sugar, maple syrup, currant jelly
- Add fruits like raisins, currants, cranberries, prunes or orange
- Use wines, juices or ginger ale instead of broth
- Sauté cabbage in bacon fat for smoky flavor
- Stir in caraway, fennel, parsley or dill
- Mix in walnuts or almonds for crunch
- Season with smoked paprika, nutmeg, cloves, allspice
- Garnish with crispy bacon bits or crumbled goat cheese
Beyond a side dish, here are some creative ways to enjoy sweet and sour cabbage:
- Stuff into cabbage rolls, wraps or dumplings
- Toss with roasted veggies, grains or noodles
- Layer on sandwiches and flatbreads
- Make into slaw with shredded carrots
- Mix into meatloaf or burger patties
- Add to soups, stews and braises
- Use as a topping for brats or hot dogs
- Serve warm or chilled as a salad
- Pickle for a tangy crunch
So experiment and have fun with different takes on sweet and sour red cabbage!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What type of cabbage is best for sweet and sour?
Red cabbage is ideal for making sweet and sour cabbage. Compared to green cabbage, it contains more antioxidants and turns a vivid purple color when cooked. Savoy cabbage also works well as it has a mellower, sweeter taste.
2. Is sweet and sour cabbage good leftover?
Yes, sweet and sour cabbage holds up extremely well for leftovers. Just store it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days. The flavors meld even more the longer it sits. Gently reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave to serve.
3. What is a good substitute for red wine vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar makes the best replacement for red wine vinegar. Balsamic vinegar and rice vinegar also work well. Lemon juice can provide acidity in a pinch. Avoid distilled white vinegar as it has a harsher taste.
4. What proteins pair well with sweet and sour cabbage?
Hearty meats like pork chops, ham, sausages, pot roast and bacon complement the flavors of sweet and sour cabbage nicely. It also pairs well with roasted chicken or turkey and fish like salmon or trout.